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China’s Xi visits Moscow in a boost for Putin as Ukraine war grinds on

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen in 2019, are meeting in Moscow this week amid the war in Ukraine.
(Alexander Zemlianichenko / Pool photo)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday in a visit that sends a strong message to Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate Moscow have fallen short.

Xi’s visit — his first abroad since he secured a third term earlier this month — shows off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger and offers a welcome political lift for Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for him on war crimes charges related to the war in Ukraine.

The two major powers have described Xi’s trip as part of efforts to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy and as a partner in opposing what both see as U.S. domination of global affairs. The two countries, which are among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also have held joint military drills.

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Xi and Putin shook hands before sitting down and making brief statements at the start of their meeting, calling each other “dear friend” and exchanging compliments. Putin congratulated Xi on his third term and voiced hope for building even stronger ties.

Putin welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement in Ukraine and said Russia was open for talks.

“We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” he said. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”

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Moscow and Beijing have a common cause: Earlier this month, Xi accused Washington of trying to isolate his country and hold back its development as it challenges for regional and possibly global leadership.

In an increasingly multipolar world, the U.S. and its allies have been unable to build a broad front against Putin. Last month, on the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, although 141 countries voted to condemn Russia at the United Nations, several members of the Group of 20 — including India, China and South Africa — chose to abstain. Many African nations haven’t openly criticized Russia over its invasion either.

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Xi thanked Putin for the congratulations on his reelection and noted that Russia was the destination of his first foreign trip after that.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that, over dinner Monday, Putin and Xi’s talks will likely include a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Broader talks involving officials from both countries on a range of subjects are scheduled for Tuesday.

For Putin, Xi’s presence at the Kremlin is a prestige visit and a diplomatic triumph, allowing him to tell Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate him have fallen short.

In an article published in the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, Putin described Xi’s visit as a “landmark event” that “reaffirms the special nature of the Russia-China partnership.”

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Putin also said the meeting sent a message to Washington that the two countries weren’t prepared to accept attempts to weaken them.

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“The U.S. policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China, as well as all those who do not bend to the American diktat, is getting ever fiercer and more aggressive,” Putin wrote.

Xi’s trip comes after the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced Friday that it wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.

China portrays Xi’s visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about what the trip aims to accomplish, though the nearly 13 months of war in Ukraine cast a long shadow on the talks.

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At a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s trip was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace.”

Of the war, Wang said: “China will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”

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Beijing’s leap into Ukraine issues follows its recent success in brokering talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia, which agreed to restore diplomatic ties after years of tensions.

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“President Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern,” Wang said.

He added that Xi aims to “promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries and inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations.”

Although they boast of a “no-limits” partnership, Beijing has conducted a China-first policy. It has shied from supplying Russia’s war machine — a move that could worsen relations with Washington and turn important European trade partners against Beijing. On the other hand, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and has censured Western sanctions on Moscow, while accusing NATO and the U.S. of provoking Putin’s military action.

China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement, but the overture fizzled. The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan and said Putin and Xi would discuss it.

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Washington strongly rejected Beijing’s call for a cease-fire, calling it, in effect, a ratification of the Kremlin’s battlefield gains.

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Ukrainian officials say they won’t bend in their terms for a peace accord.

“The first and main point is the capitulation or withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from the territory of Ukraine in accordance with the norms of international law and the UN Charter,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted Monday.

That means restoring “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” he wrote.

Xi’s trip to Russia comes after the International Criminal Court on Friday issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest on war crimes charges.

The Kremlin doesn’t recognize the authority of the the International Criminal Court and has rejected its move against Putin as “legally null and void.” China, the U.S. and Ukraine don’t recognize the ICC either, but the court’s announcement tarnished Putin’s international standing.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday called on the ICC to “respect the jurisdictional immunity” of a head of state and “avoid politicization and double standards.”

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday that it was opening a criminal case against a prosecutor and three judges of the ICC over the arrest warrants they issued for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. The committee called the ICC’s prosecution “unlawful” because it was, among other things, a “criminal prosecution of a knowingly innocent person.”

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