Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin posed as peacebrokers during a friendly visit in Moscow on Tuesday, again touting a supposed plan to end Russia’s raging war in Ukraine that has been panned by the United States as a one-sided attempt to hand the Kremlin leader cover as he presses on with his invasion.
Putin on Tuesday backed the Chinese leader’s proposal for a “peaceful settlement in Ukraine,” in a show of unity at the Kremlin that raised the prospect of a strengthened anti-Western bulwark at the international level.
But those overtures have been roundly ignored as a serious framework for peace. China’s plan – which calls for a ceasefire and talks, but includes no provision that Moscow withdraw its troops from Ukrainian land – was drawn up without any involvement from Kyiv.
The US meanwhile, warned on Monday that Xi’s visit provided “diplomatic cover” for Russia’s war.
And there was little indication that Tuesday’s display of closeness at the Kremlin had done anything to impact the state of the war in Ukraine, where Putin’s ground offensive remains bogged down in slow-moving trench warfare.
The Russian president claimed China’s plan “can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, when the West and in Kyiv are ready for it.”
“All our talks today and yesterday in one to one format and with delegations were successful and took place in friendly atmosphere,” Putin said at a joint statement to the media during the second day of Xi’s state visit to Moscow.
“I’ve built a close relationship with President Putin in the past 10 years,” Xi added. “We agreed that the relations between our two nations go way beyond ourselves. They are crucial to the world order and all mankind’s future and destiny.”
According to a readout, Russia spoke positively about China’s “objective and fair” stance on Ukraine, and both sides opposed any country or group of countries’ harming the “legitimate security interests of other countries in pursuit of military, political or other advantages.”
China in recent weeks has repeatedly attempted to portray itself as an aspiring broker of peace, reiterating its calls for a ceasefire and peace talks in a vaguely-worded position paper released last month, even as Russia continues an onslaught that has triggered a mass humanitarian crisis and left tens of thousands dead.
But Western countries have viewed Beijing’s intentions with deep suspicion, and NATO’s chief said Tuesday that the alliance has seen “some signs” that Russia is pressing China to provide lethal aid.
Alongside overtures on Ukraine, the two leaders emphasized their shared strategic visions and signaled a desire to boost ties on a number of issues, including energy.
“China has become a leader in the import of Russian oil, while Russia is ready to increase uninterrupted oil supplies for the needs of the Chinese economy,” Putin said.
Putin added that further growth in Russian gas exports to China was discussed, including “implementation of the initiative to build the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline through the territory of Mongolia.”
The pair raised a toast at the beginning of Tuesday’s state dinner, during which the Putin proclaimed in a speech that “Russia-Chinese relations are at the highest point ever.”
There has been wide skepticism of China’s position on resolving the conflict, centered on concerns that nothing offered by Beijing so far reflects Ukraine’s demand that all Russian troops withdraw from its territory.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday hit out at Xi’s visit, remarking that it came just days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin.
“China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” Washington’s top diplomat said.
Any calls for a ceasefire “that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest” as it would “allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops, and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia,” he added.
Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov also that day said on Twitter that the “successful implementation” of a Chinese “peace plan” must start with the “capitulation or withdrawal” of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was open to “dialogue” with China about its proposals. But he warned a ceasefire would simply allow for Russia “to prepare and come back again with their single wish, the wish of their leader – that is to occupy our country.”
Xi’s visit to Moscow coincided with a surprise trip to Ukraine from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to meet Zelensky on Tuesday.
Xi also invited Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to visit China during their meeting on Tuesday morning, TASS reported, adding that Mishustin had already accepted the invitation.
NATO meanwhile said it was aware that Russia has likely requested lethal aid from China to bolster Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
“We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia, but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday.
“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia. That would be to support an illegal war,” Stoltenberg warned.