Putin hosts Xi in Moscow as alliance grows

Chinese president’s remarks on Ukraine remain cautious

In this handout photo released by Russian Presidential Press Office, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 20, 2023. (Russian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this handout photo released by Russian Presidential Press Office, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 20, 2023. (Russian Presidential Press Office via AP)

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday, sending a powerful message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over the fighting in Ukraine have fallen short.

Xi's trip -- his first abroad since his re-election earlier this month -- showed off Beijing's new diplomatic swagger and gave a political lift to Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.

The two major powers have described Xi's three-day trip as an opportunity 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 standing up to what both see as U.S. aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair punishment for their human rights records.

The two countries, among the five U.N. Security Council's permanent members, also have held joint military drills. U.S. officials have picked up indications China is considering supplying Russia with weapons for its fight in Ukraine but have seen no evidence they've actually done so.

The leaders smiled and shook hands before sitting down at the start of their meeting, calling each other "dear friend" and exchanging compliments. Putin congratulated Xi on his reelection and voiced hope for building even stronger ties.

"China has made a colossal leap ahead in its development in recent years," Putin said, adding that "it's causing genuine interest all around the world, and we even feel a bit envious," as Xi smiled.

According to a Chinese summary of their meeting at the Kremlin, Xi told Putin: "The majority of countries support easing tensions, advocate peace negotiations and oppose pouring oil on the fire. Historically, conflicts must finally be settled through dialogue and negotiations."

The cautious remarks were in line with the delicate position China has adopted on the war, sympathizing with Russia's grievances against Western influence and NATO while calling for talks to end the fighting. In keeping with that ambiguity, Xi has referred to the fighting in Ukraine as a "crisis" or "conflict," but not as a war or invasion.

If there was any progress on the most closely watched aspect of the summit -- whether Xi could coax Putin toward serious peace negotiations -- there was no evidence of it at the end of the first day. Putin said only that Russia had "carefully studied" China's peace proposals, and would treat them "with respect."

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

Both Moscow and Beijing have accused Washington of trying to isolate them and hold back their development as they challenge it for regional and global leadership.

"Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China," Xi declared in a speech this month.

In an increasingly multipolar world, the U.S. and its allies have been unable to build a broad front against Putin. While 141 countries condemned Moscow in a United Nations vote marking the first anniversary of Russian troops rolling into Ukraine, several members of the G-20 -- including India, China and South Africa -- abstained. Many African nations also have refrained from openly criticizing Russia.

"We hope that the strategic partnership between China and Russia will on the one hand uphold international fairness and justice, and on the other hand promote the common prosperity and development of our countries," Xi said.

In their 41/2 hours of talks, along with a dinner that included a Pacific seafood platter and roast venison in cherry sauce, Putin would offer Xi a "detailed explanation" of Moscow's actions in Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Broader talks on a range of subjects are scheduled today.

For Putin, Xi's presence is a prestigious, diplomatic boost to show partnership in the face of Western efforts to isolate Russia over Ukraine.

In an article published in the Chinese People's Daily newspaper, Putin described Xi's visit as a "landmark event" that "reaffirms the special nature of the Russia-China partnership" and said the meeting signaled that the two countries aren't prepared to accept attempts to weaken them.

"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," he wrote.

He described cooperation between Russia and China as an essential counterweight to a West that is seeking to dominate not just Eastern Europe but also the Asia-Pacific region, and one that is aiming to "contain the development of our countries."

"It is Russian-Chinese relations that today practically represent the cornerstone of regional, even global stability," Putin wrote.

For Putin, Xi's visit is also a chance to smooth over tensions tied to the killings of nine Chinese nationals at a gold mine in the Central African Republic, which Xi has condemned. There are competing claims about who was responsible, but some blame a Russian mercenary group,

China portrays Xi's visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about its purpose, though Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Monday that China "will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks." Xi didn't directly mention the Ukraine fighting or his peace plan when he sat down for the talks with Putin.

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 their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.

Following that success, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.

Although Putin and Xi boast of a "no-limits" partnership, Beijing has conducted a China First policy. It has refrained from supplying Russia's military -- a move that could worsen relations with Washington and turn important European trade partners against China. On the other hand, it has refused to condemn Moscow's aggression and criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin's military action.

Western pressure has made Russia increasingly reliant on Beijing, observers said.

Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, noted that Beijing is aiming at "getting Russia as a junior partner deeper into China's pocket."

Dmitry Oreshkin, professor at Free University in Riga, Latvia, observed that Beijing benefits from tensions between Moscow and the West, by gaining access to cheap Russian energy resources. "It's very convenient for China, which couldn't get such a discount before," he said.

China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cautiously welcomed Beijing's involvement, but the overture fizzled.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby urged Xi "to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." He also said the U.S. administration believes Xi could play "a constructive role" by speaking directly with Zelenskyy.

The Kremlin has welcomed China's peace plan, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday any proposal that left Russian forces in place in Ukraine would merely let Moscow re-equip and otherwise regain strength to resume its offensive.

"Calling for a cease-fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest," he told reporters in Washington. "The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms."

The trip for Xi, Blinken said, "suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the president accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine."

Kyiv officials say they won't bend in their terms for a peace accord.

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

The Kremlin doesn't recognize the court's authority and has rejected its move against Putin as "legally null and void." China, the U.S. and Ukraine also don't recognize the ICC, but the decision tarnished Putin's international standing.

China's Foreign Ministry urged the ICC to "respect the jurisdictional immunity" of a head of state and "avoid politicization and double standards."

Russia's Investigative Committee retaliated Monday by opening a criminal case against a prosecutor and three judges of the ICC over the arrest warrants 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."

Information for this article was contributed by Vladimir Isachenkov and Ellen Knickmeyer of The Associated Press and by Valerie Hopkins, Chris Buckley and Anton Troianovski of The New York Times.

 Gallery: Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin

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