Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Kremlin Monday, telling him that he welcomes Beijing's peace plan to resolve Russia's war against Ukraine and signaling to Western leaders the extent of what they call their "limitless" friendship.
Putin said he viewed the Beijing peace plan with respect. But it has little chance of enactment as proposed because it does meet key demands from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy-namely, that Russia withdraw from Ukraine to honor its internationally recognized borders, including the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 and the eastern Ukrainian regions Russian forces invaded in February of last year.
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The Chinese leader's three-day visit to Moscow gives both Xi and Putin a public show of partnership in opposing what both see as American domination of global affairs. Their growing alliance also facilitates economic deals, such as shipment of Russian oil and natural gas to China at a time when the U.S. and its Western allies have imposed widespread sanctions to curb Russia's foreign business transactions in retaliation for its Ukraine invasion.
In opening remarks before their closed-door talks, Putin said Russia was "slightly envious" of China's rapid development in recent decades that have boosted it to become the world's second largest economy behind the U.S.
Over dinner on Monday, Putin will likely give Xi a 'detailed explanation' of Moscow's actions in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The spokesman said that broader talks on a range of subjects are scheduled Tuesday and involve officials from both countries.
Ahead of the visit, 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.'
The Russian leader 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.
China's President Xi Jinping walks past honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on March 20, 2023.
The Chinese leader's trip to Moscow came just days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague charged Putin with the illegal deportation of thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia. Russia has ignored the allegations as "null and void."
It was not immediately clear what China hoped to gain from Xi's visit. In Beijing, 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.'
The spokesman added, '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 that Xi aims to 'promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries and inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations.'
While trying to broker an end to the war in Ukraine, Beijing has not supplied weapons to Moscow, but also not condemned the invasion. At the same time, it has accused NATO and the United States of provoking Putin's attack on Ukraine.
The U.S. has strongly rejected Beijing's call for a cease-fire, which it says would leave in place Moscow's territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
'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 U.N. Charter,' Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said Monday on Twitter.
On Monday, Xi wrote in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a daily published by the Russian government, that the Chinese proposal represents 'as much as possible the unity of the world community's views," according to an English translation of the article issued by the Chinese Mission to the United Nations.
'The document serves as a constructive factor in neutralizing the consequences of the crisis and promoting a political settlement. Complex problems do not have simple solutions," Xi said.
In the People's Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, Putin said on Monday: "We are grateful for the balanced line (of China) in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes," according to The Associated Press.
"We welcome China's willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis," Putin said Sunday.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told VOA on Friday, "We know that China and Russia have been improving and increasing their relationship in many different ways, both sides have been. ... What we are concerned about is that President Xi hasn't talked to [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and we believe it's important that he do that as well - that he doesn't just get the Russian perspective here on this war, but that he gets President Zelenskyy's perspective."
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Kirby also said of the peace plan proposed by Beijing, "We'd be concerned if coming out of this meeting there was some sort of a call for a cease-fire, because right now, while a cease-fire sounds good, it actually ratifies Russia's gains on the ground. It actually serves Russia's purpose for a cease-fire to basically call a stop right now without any acknowledgement that Russia is illegally inside Ukraine."
White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara and Paris Huang of VOA's Mandarin service contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.