Tuesday, July 23, 2024

As Viktor Orban visits China to push for ceasefire, Russian missiles hit Ukraine

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made a surprise visit to Beijing on Monday, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a global effort to push Russia and Ukraine toward a “ceasefire” and praised Orban’s diplomatic initiatives. It was a powerful demonstration of how Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin seek to create a multipolar world order not dominated by the United States.

As Xi Jinping embraced Orban in the Chinese capital, Russian missiles slammed into Kyiv, Dnipro and other Ukrainian cities on Monday — killing at least 31 people, including two at a children’s hospital in Kyiv, and highlighting the brutality of Putin’s war.

In response to the missile attack, but also to what appeared to be new diplomatic maneuvers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for global pressure to stop Russian aggression. “The whole world must use all its determination to finally end Russian strikes. Murder is what Putin brings. Only together can we achieve real peace and security,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in a statement on Telegram that it had carried out a major missile attack on Ukraine on Monday, but insisted the targets were “Ukrainian military-industrial facilities” and “air bases.”

Orban’s visit to China follows visits to Kyiv and Moscow last week, just days after Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. His peacemaking bid has drawn criticism in the West for trying to pressure Kyiv to hand over territory seized by Moscow by force.

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In Brussels, officials dismissed Orban’s efforts, saying he was not authorized to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the EU. “He should be clear that he is only representing his country,” said an EU diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer confirmed that Orban was on the trip alone. “He has no mandate to represent the EU on these visits,” Mamer said.

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But Putin, who welcomed Orbán to Moscow last week, pointedly invoked Hungary’s EU presidency. In a sign of the new multipolar dimension of geopolitics, the Hungarian prime minister’s visit to Beijing came just hours before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Moscow for a state visit, his first since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In a statement before leaving New Delhi on Monday, Modi praised “my friend Vladimir Putin” and the “special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.” After his arrival, Russian and Indian media showed Modi in a bright turquoise jacket arriving at his Moscow hotel where he was greeted by Indian dancers and well-wishers waving Indian flags.

India’s purchases of Russian oil, which have risen 20-fold since 2021, have helped Moscow weather tough Western economic sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

By visiting Moscow, Modi, who was re-elected last month, was signaling his independence even as the Biden administration has worked hard to woo the Indian leader.

“Mr Putin will want to send a message to the public: India is a friend, all this talk of isolating Russia is nonsense, not everyone is under the control of the West led by the United States, and the asymmetric but multipolar world has arrived,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, director of the Eurasia programme at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank. “India will agree that it is a multipolar world, even if that is true, but it is not true.” [India] “Leans a little bit to the west.”

Orban’s visit to China was a diplomatic victory for Putin, who has long advocated a multipolar, non-Western world order. Putin has insisted that the West, particularly the United States and Britain, are responsible for prolonging his war in Ukraine by failing to pressure Kiev to surrender to his territorial claims.

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Upon landing in China, Urban Post a picture About himself on X with the caption: “Peace Mission 3.0 #Beijing”.

Xi said in his meeting with Orban in Beijing that he appreciated the Hungarian leader’s efforts to find a political solution to the war in Ukraine, which he described as a “conflict.”

“China and Hungary share the same basic positions and work in the same direction,” he said.

“Only when all major powers exert positive energy instead of negative energy can the dawn of a ceasefire in this conflict emerge as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to China Central Television. Xi added that China “actively calls for peace and advocates talks in its own way.”

People clear rubble and search through debris after a Russian airstrike hit a major children’s hospital in Kyiv on July 8. (Video: Reuters)

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Orban insisted that Ukraine would never be able to defeat Russia. “There is no solution to this conflict on the front lines,” he said, adding: “Putin cannot lose if you look at the soldiers, the equipment and the technology. Defeating Russia is an idea that is difficult to imagine. The possibility of actually defeating Russia is completely immeasurable.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, has insisted it cannot agree to any ceasefire while Russian forces occupy about a fifth of its territory and missiles and bombs rain down on its cities. Zelensky has called for a complete withdrawal of Russian forces, including at a “peace” summit in Switzerland last month that China conspicuously did not attend. Russia was not invited.

Beijing has rejected criticism from Ukraine, Europe and the United States over its decision not to attend a peace summit hosted by Switzerland, arguing that it cannot participate in talks that exclude Russia. Instead, China, along with Brazil, has put forward its own six-point proposal, which Chinese officials claim has received support from dozens of countries across the developing world.

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From Beijing’s perspective, Western countries have acted as an obstacle to Russia and Ukraine sitting down and negotiating directly, said Cui Hongjian, an international relations scholar at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Beijing believes “it has to speak up and have a position,” Cui added.

China’s claim to neutrality has come under increasing pressure as the war drags on into its third year and trade between China and Russia booms—along with mounting evidence that Chinese companies are providing economic and indirect support to Russia’s military-industrial base.

In their statements and public appearances, Putin and Xi have increasingly shown agreement in their shared ambition to reshape the global order and weaken U.S. influence.

Last week, Xi and Putin met in Kazakhstan, where Putin spoke of progress toward a “fair and multipolar world order” at the annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, one of several multilateral groups that the two powers have used to expand their influence.

At that meeting, Putin proposed resuming negotiations that had taken place in Istanbul in 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion, when Ukraine was in a weak position. In the years since, each side has suffered tens of thousands of casualties, and Russia has made little progress toward illegally annexing four regions of southeastern Ukraine, as well as Crimea, which it seized by force in 2014.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Moscow supports diplomatic efforts.

“President Vladimir Putin is a convinced supporter of giving priority to political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Ukrainian conflict,” Peskov said.

Shepard from Taipei, Taiwan, and Shih from New Delhi. Serhiy Korolchuk in Kiev, Kate Brady in Berlin, Emily Rauhala in Washington, and Natalia Abakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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