Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin planned more talks on Tuesday after a Kremlin dinner where the isolated Russian president curried favour with his most powerful ally in the face of Western opposition to its invasion of Ukraine.
Washington, meanwhile, denounced Xi’s visit, saying it showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit more crimes.
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 more than 4 hours.
In televised comments, Putin told Xi he viewed China’s proposals for resolution of the Ukraine conflict with respect.
Xi, in his first trip abroad since obtaining an unprecedented third term earlier this month, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.
He also said China was “ready to resolutely defend the UN-centric international system, stand guard over the world order based on international law”, according to a report by The Guardian.
Ukraine was still awaiting confirmation of whether Xi would be speaking on a call to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss Beijing’s peace proposal, Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“That would be an important move. They have things to say to each other,” Vereshchuk told the newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.
Meeting ‘wanted man’
The timing of the visit has given Xi’s personal support a new meaning, after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Friday accusing Putin of war crimes for deporting children from Ukraine.
“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 said the warrant reflected double standards.
Military support ‘unlikely’
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.
Washington has said in recent weeks it fears China might arm Russia, which Beijing has denied.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said on YouTube that there had been fewer attacks along the frontline than usual in the past 24 hours.
“This could be linked to the visit to Moscow by the Chinese leader. Why? Because Putin is hardly likely to put aggression on display on the front lines, particularly as China has spoken in favour of a ceasefire and of an end to the war. So this is likely to continue throughout his two-day visit.”
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena