China’s Xi Visits Moscow to Bolster Putin Amid Ukraine War

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China's President Xi Jinping stands during an official welcome ceremony
In this grab taken from video provided by RU-24, China's President Xi Jinping stands during an official welcome ceremony upon his arrival at the Vnukovo-2 government airport outside Moscow, Monday, March 20, 2023. (RU- 24 via AP)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow on Monday to show off Beijing's new diplomatic swagger and give a political lift to Russian President Vladimir Putin against the West 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. domination of global affairs. The two countries, which are among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, also have held joint military drills.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that over dinner on Monday, Putin and Xi 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, Peskov said.

    For Putin, Xi’s presence is a prestigious, diplomatic triumph, sending a message to Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate him have fallen short.

    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.”

    Putin also specifically said the meeting sent a message to Washington 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.

    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.

    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.

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

    On 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.”

    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.

    “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 shrunk 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 against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.

    China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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.

    Washington strongly rejected Beijing’s call for a cease-fire as the effective ratification of the Kremlin’s battlefield gains.

    Kyiv 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 on Monday.

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

    The Kremlin doesn't recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court 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 court's announcement tarnished Putin's international standing.

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

    Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said the ICC's move will have “monstrous consequences” for international law.

    “A gloomy sunset of the entire system of international relations is coming, trust is exhausted,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. He argued that in the past, the ICC has destroyed its credibility by failing to prosecute what he called U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    He also cautioned that the court in The Hague could be a target for a Russian missile strike. Medvedev has in the past made bombastic statements and claims.

    Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday it is 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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