Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin amid Ukraine fighting

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Published: 03-21-2023 8:58 AM

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 re-election 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.

The Kremlin leader welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement in Ukraine and noted Russia is open for talks.

“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.”

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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.

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 4½ 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 Tuesday.

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.

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.

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