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Putin meets ‘dear friend’ Xi in Kremlin as Ukraine war grinds on

By:
Reuters
Updated: Mar 21, 2023, 02:20 GMT+00:00

(Reuters) - Vladimir Putin and his "dear friend" Chinese leader Xi Jinping planned more talks on Tuesday after a Kremlin dinner where the isolated Russian president showcased his most powerful ally in the face of Western opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Russia's Putin holds talks with China's Xi in Moscow

(Reuters) – Vladimir Putin and his “dear friend” Chinese leader Xi Jinping planned more talks on Tuesday after a Kremlin dinner where the isolated Russian president showcased his most powerful ally in the face of Western opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Washington denounced Xi’s visit, saying the timing just days after an international court accused Putin of war crimes indicated Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit additional crimes.

It was Xi’s first trip abroad since he obtained an unprecedented third term last month. The Chinese leader has been trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, even as he deepens economic ties with his closest ally.

Putin and Xi greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin on Monday, and Russian state news agencies later reported they held informal talks for nearly 4-1/2 hours, with more official talks scheduled for Tuesday.

In televised comments, Putin told Xi he viewed China’s proposals for resolution of the Ukraine conflict with respect. He confessed to being “slightly envious” of China’s “very effective system for developing the economy and strengthening the state”.

Xi, for his part, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.

Moscow has been publicly promoting plans for a visit by Xi for months. But the timing gave the Chinese leader’s personal support new meaning, after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday accusing Putin of war crimes for deporting children from Ukraine.

Moscow denies illegally deporting children, saying it has taken in orphans to protect them. It opened a criminal case against the court’s prosecutor and judges. Beijing said the warrant reflected double standards.

The West says the warrant should make the Russian leader a pariah.

“That President Xi is travelling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“Instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those grave crimes.”

White House spokesman John Kirby said Xi should use his influence to press Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine, and Washington was concerned that Beijing might instead call for a ceasefire that would let Russian troops stay.

China has released a proposal to solve the Ukraine crisis, largely dismissed in the West as a ploy to buy Putin time to regroup his forces and solidify his grip on occupied land.

Washington has said in recent weeks it fears China might arm Russia, which Beijing has denied.

Foreign policy analysts said while Putin would be looking for strong support from Xi over Ukraine, they doubted his Moscow visit would result in any military backing.

“President Xi’s statements in advance of the meeting have been noteworthy for what they did not say – that is, any genuine military linkages and other, concrete assurances of support,” said Robert Murrett, deputy director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law at Syracuse University.

“China appears to be more interested in acting as a mediator for peace initiatives with regard to Ukraine than increasing support for the Russian invasion,” said Murrett.

Yu Jie, senior research fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, at Chatham House in London, said Xi’s entourage does not include any senior members from the People’s Liberation Army.

“This may send a clear message that Beijing is unlikely to offer any direct military support to Moscow despite what some pundits have asserted,” she said.

Kyiv cautious

Kyiv, which says the war cannot end until Russia pulls out its troops, cautiously welcomed Beijing’s peace proposal when it was unveiled last month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that China arming Russia could lead to World War Three and has called for Xi to speak to him.

Russia’s defence ministry said a Russian Su-35 fighter jet was scrambled over the Baltic Sea on Monday after two U.S. strategic bombers flew in the direction of the Russian border, but that it returned to base after they moved away.

The development followed the March 14 crash of a U.S. military surveillance drone into the Black Sea after it was intercepted by Russian jets, in the first known direct military encounter between Russia and the United States since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Several European Union countries agreed in Brussels on Monday to jointly buy 1 million rounds of 155 mm artillery shells for Ukraine. Both sides fire thousands of rounds per day.

The United States announced its latest military aid package, worth $350 million, including more ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzers and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, plus HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons and river boats.

Russia’s invasion has laid waste to Ukrainian cities, caused millions of people to flee and killed tens of thousands of civilians.

Fierce fighting continued Tuesday in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces have held out since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Moscow, which has not scored a major victory since August, has launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited from jails.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Michael Perry; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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