White House spokesperson urges Chinese leader to press Putin on ‘need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.’
Vladimir Putin hosted his “dear friend” Xi Jinping for dinner in the Kremlin on Monday, showing off his relationship with his most powerful ally just days after an international court called for the Russian president’s arrest for war crimes in Ukraine.
Washington denounced the Chinese leader’s visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit further crimes.
It was the first trip abroad for Xi since he obtained an unprecedented third term last month. The Chinese leader has been trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, even as he deepens economic ties with his closest ally.
Putin and Xi greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin, and Russian state news agencies later reported they held informal talks for nearly 4½ hours on Monday, with further official talks scheduled for Tuesday.
Exchange of compliments
In televised comments after they greeted each other, Putin told Xi he viewed China’s proposals for a resolution of the Ukraine conflict with respect. He confessed to being “slightly envious” of China’s “very effective system for developing the economy and strengthening the state.”
Xi, for his part, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.
“Under your strong leadership, Russia has made great strides in its prosperous development,” he said.
Moscow has been publicly promoting plans for a visit by Xi for months. But the timing this week gave the Chinese leader’s personal support unexpected new meaning, after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday accusing Putin of war crimes for deporting children from Ukraine.
Moscow denies illegally deporting children, saying it has taken in orphans to protect them. It opened a criminal case against the court’s prosecutor and judges. Beijing said the warrant reflected double standards.
The West says the warrant should make the Russian leader a pariah.
“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,” he added.
U.S. believes arms deal still on the table
White House National Security Council spokesperson 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.
China last month released a 12-point proposal to solve the Ukraine crisis, largely dismissed in the West as a ploy to buy Putin time to regroup his forces and solidify his grip on occupied land.
Washington has said in recent weeks it also fears China might arm Russia, which Beijing has denied. Kirby said the United States believed this was still on the table.
Kyiv, which says the war cannot end until Russia pulls out its troops, has been circumspect toward China, cautiously welcoming Beijing’s peace proposal when it was unveiled last month even though Western allies were publicly skeptical.
Ukraine expects Beijing to ‘use its influence’ to end war
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that China arming Russia could lead to a Third World War, but also that he believed Beijing was aware of this risk, implying he thought it was unlikely. He has called for Xi to speak to him.
“We expect Beijing to use its influence on Moscow to make it put an end to the aggressive war against Ukraine,” Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said.
Putin signed a “no limits” partnership with Xi last year shortly before the Kremlin leader ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Putin claims he aims to end a threat to Russia from its neighbour’s moves toward the West; Kyiv and the West call it an unprovoked attack to subdue an independent state.
Russia’s assault is believed to have killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides. Moscow has destroyed Ukrainian cities, set millions of people to flight and claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin would provide Xi with detailed “clarifications” of Russia’s position, without elaborating.
Several European Union countries agreed in Brussels on Monday to jointly buy one million rounds of 155 millimetre artillery shells for Ukraine.
U.S authorizes another $350m in military aid
The United States announced its latest military aid package, worth $350 million US, including more ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzers and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, plus HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons and river boats.
Fierce fighting continued in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut where Ukrainian forces have held out since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Putin hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow
China’s Xi Jinping received a warm welcome from Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Western allies will be watching this visit closely for signs China may be considering supplying weapons for Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite China’s claims of impartiality.
Giving its regular morning roundup from the front, Ukraine’s military said defenders in Bakhmut, Lyman, Ivanivske, Bohdanivka and Hryhorivka — all towns in the Donetsk region — had repelled 69 Russian attacks in the past day.
“Bakhmut remains the epicentre of hostilities,” it said.
Ukraine’s military said that Russian forces were on the defensive in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to the south.
Moscow, which has not scored a major victory since last August, has launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited from jails.
Fighting that both sides describe as a meat grinder has scattered the battlefield with bodies, but the front line has barely moved for more than four months.
Ukraine, which recaptured swathes of territory in the second half of 2022, has kept mainly to defence since November, aiming to deplete Russia’s attacking forces before launching a planned counteroffensive of its own.
Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner private army has led the offensive in Bakhmut, wrote in a letter to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that Kyiv was planning its offensive as soon as late March or April.
Ukraine would aim to cut Wagner forces off from Russia’s regular army, Prigozhin wrote, which could lead to “negative consequences.”
With files from the Associated Press
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