(CNN) Xi Jinping He met Vladimir Putin at the start of a three-day visit to Russia – his first since Moscow launched his unexplained visit Ukraine invasion Last year – as the Chinese leader sought to portray himself as a peace broker despite deep suspicions in Kiev and the West.
Putin welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on Monday, just days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted the Russian president committing war crimes In Ukraine and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Ukraine is expected to be a major point of discussion during Xi’s visit, which will be closely watched for any possible impact on the country. firm struggle which have claimed tens of thousands of lives and caused a massive humanitarian crisis.
“In the past few years, China has made a huge leap forward,” Putin told Xi, sitting across from him in the Kremlin on Monday afternoon. “All over the world this arouses interest and, unfortunately, even envy.”
China described the trip as “a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace”, amid a push by Beijing to frame itself as a major proponent of resolving the conflict. But Xi’s trip is likely to be seen in some Western capitals as a staunch endorsement of the Russian leader in the face of widespread international condemnation of his war.
Putin again claimed to Xi that he was “always open to the negotiation process” during a publicly announced portion of Monday’s meeting, despite his repeated refusal to engage with Kiev over withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.
“We have closely studied your proposals for a settlement over the acute crisis in Ukraine,” Putin told Xi.
“Of course we will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that you are based on the principles of justice and adherence to the basic points of international law,” Putin said. “We will definitely discuss all these issues, including your initiative.”
Western leaders have expressed doubts about China’s potential role as peacemaker and its alleged neutrality. Instead, the United States and its allies have been warning since last month that China is Consider sending lethal aid to Russia for its war effort, which Beijing denied.
Kiev is also expected to watch the proceedings closely, and stressed on Monday that any peace plan must begin with a Russian exit from its territory.
“We expect Beijing to use its influence on Moscow to end the war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told CNN Monday.
“Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be at the heart of every diplomatic effort,” he said. “We are willing to engage in closer dialogue with China in order to restore peace in Ukraine in accordance with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the recent UN General Assembly resolution on this issue.”
On the table
Xi’s visit comes days after the International Criminal Court made Putin wanted by the 123 countries that recognize the court, deepening the Russian leader’s isolation from the West as he pursues a bloody and costly war in Ukraine.
The Chinese leader is expected to meet Putin later in the afternoon, local time. He was greeted upon his arrival at Vnukovo airport near Moscow by Dmitry Chernyshenko, one of Russia’s ten deputy prime ministers, and a Russian military contingent, but Putin himself was not present for the meet and greet.
Russian media later showed Xi’s convoy driving through the city three days before the meetings, where he is expected to promote a supposed framework to end the conflict that has drawn a lukewarm reception from the West.
China has recently sought to revamp its image, presenting itself as a pacifist and defending its relationship with Russia as good for global stability. Last month, Beijing released a Vaguely worded position paper On the “political solution” to the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, after announcing Xi’s visit to Moscow, the White House expressed concerns about possible proposals from China that would be “one-sided and only reflect the Russian perspective.”
For example, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the cease-fire proposal — which China has repeatedly called for — would only provide a way for Russia to regroup before launching retaliation.
The visit is expected to provide a platform for the two countries to further deepen their close strategic alignment, which includes diplomatic coordination, joint military training and strong trade.
In a statement issued after the Chinese president landed on Monday, the Chinese president said: “Faced with a turbulent and changing world, China is ready to continue working with Russia to resolutely safeguard the international order.”
Both Putin and Xi hailed the “new impetus” their meeting will bring to their bilateral relationship in separate messages released to national state-run media ahead of the visit.
Both have also used speeches to denounce “hegemony” – a reference to their shared goal of pushing back against what they see as a US-led world order.
Xi will need to be careful during his visit to Moscow. At stake for the Chinese leader is whether he can strengthen relations with a partner that China views as crucial to countering that perceived US hegemony, while not alienating a Europe that has become increasingly wary of the China-Russia relationship.
Putin launched his invasion days after Xi announced an attack “Unlimited” partnership last february.
Since that time, China has claimed neutrality, but has supported the Kremlin’s rhetoric blaming NATO for the conflict, refused to condemn the invasion, and continued to support Moscow financially through Significant increase in purchases of Russian fuel.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has in the past publicly expressed interest in speaking with Xi about the conflict, although communication between the two countries has not reached a level higher than the Ukrainian ministerial level since the war began.
Ukrainian, Chinese and American officials all declined last week to confirm a possible virtual meeting between Zelensky and Xi, following a Wall Street Journal report that the two were planning to speak for the first time following Xi’s then-possible visit to Moscow.
In contrast, this week’s state visit marks the 40th meeting between Putin and Xi since the Chinese leader came to power in 2012.
the personal chemistry The relationship between the two authoritarian leaders is widely seen as a key driver of closer ties between the two countries in recent years – and will also be closely examined during the visit.
Previous meetings between leaders have fully showcased that relationship, including taking photos Putin serves something with ice cream On his 66th birthday during a 2019 meeting in Tajikistan, the two cooked Russian pancakes together on the sidelines of a forum in Vladivostok in 2018.
The two last met in person in September during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, which is part of the Xi’s first foreign trip After nearly three years without travel during the pandemic.
Putin, who referred to Xi as his “good old friend” in his message released in state Chinese media on Monday, is expected to play the meeting domestically as proof that Russia is not isolated on the world stage.
CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed to this report
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