Vladimir Putin hosted his “dear friend” Xi Jinping for dinner in the Kremlin on Monday, showing his rapport with his most powerful ally just days after an international court called for the Russian president to be arrested for war crimes in Ukraine.
Washington condemned Xi’s visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit other crimes.
It was Xi’s first trip abroad since winning an unprecedented third term last month. The Chinese leader is trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine even as he deepens economic ties with his closest ally.
Putin and Xi greeted each other as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin on Monday afternoon before dinner, with formal talks due to begin on Tuesday.
Putin told Xi that he viewed China’s proposals for resolving the Ukraine conflict with respect and was also “a little envious” of China’s “very effective system of economic development and state strengthening.”
For his part, Xi Jinping praised Putin and predicted that Russians would re-elect him next year.
“Under your strong leadership, Russia has made great strides in its prosperous development,” he said.
Such a visit had long been expected – Putin publicly invited Xi months ago – but the symbolism was complicated by the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Putin last week for deporting children from Ukraine.
Moscow denies illegal deportations of children from Ukraine and says it has taken in the orphans to protect them. She started criminal proceedings against the court prosecutor and the judges. Beijing said the arrest warrant reflected double standards.
The West says the arrest warrant should make the Russian leader an outcast.
“The fact that President Xi Jinping is traveling 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 atrocities committed in Ukraine,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken .
“Instead of even condemning them, he would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit these heinous crimes,” he added.
Russia, China and the United States are not among the 123 countries that are members of the ICC and are required to arrest Putin if he arrives on their territory.
Xi aims to present China as a peacemaker, even as he seeks to strengthen ties with his closest ally Putin. China has released a 12-point proposal to resolve the Ukraine crisis, largely dismissed by the West as a ploy to buy Putin more time to regroup his forces and tighten his grip on the occupied country.
Washington has said in recent weeks that it fears China could provide Russia with weapons, which Beijing has denied.
KYIV BE CAREFUL
Kiev, which says the war cannot end until Russia withdraws its troops, has been cautious. It cautiously welcomed Beijing’s peace proposal when it was unveiled last month, even as its Western allies were publicly skeptical.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said China arming Russia could lead to World War III, but he also believed Beijing was aware of the risk, suggesting he thought it unlikely. He called Xi to talk to him.
“We expect Beijing to use its influence on Moscow to end the war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said.
Putin signed an “unrestricted” partnership with Xi Jinping last year shortly before the Kremlin leader ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Putin says his goal is to end the threat to Russia from its neighbor to the West; Kiev and the West call it an unprovoked attack to subjugate an independent state.
The Russian attack is believed to have killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides, destroyed cities and forced millions to flee. Moscow claims it has annexed almost a fifth of Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin would provide Xi with detailed “clarifications” of Russia’s position, without elaborating.
Justice ministers from around the world met in London on Monday to discuss support for the ICC, whose chief prosecutor Karim Khan called on Russia to repatriate Ukrainian children to prove it is acting in their best interests, he says.
Several countries of the European Union agreed in Brussels on the joint purchase of one million rounds of 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine. Both sides fire thousands of rounds every day.
The United States announced its latest $350 million military aid package, including additional munitions for HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzers and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, plus HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons and riverboats.
Fierce fighting continued in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces have been engaged in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war since last summer.
Moscow, without a major victory since last August, launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of newly drafted reservists and convicts recruited from prison.
The fighting, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, has littered the battlefield with bodies, but the front line has barely moved after more than four months.
Ukraine, which recaptured parts of the territory in the second half of 2022, has been largely on the defensive since November with the aim of wearing down Russian offensive forces before launching its own planned counter-offensive.
Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose private army Wagner led the Bakhmut offensive, wrote in a letter to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Kiev was planning an offensive as early as late March or April.
Ukraine would aim to cut off Wagner’s forces from Russia’s regular army, Prigozhin wrote, which could lead to “negative consequences.”