Russian President Vladimir Putin is hailing a vague Chinese plan as a potential template for peace in Ukraine, but he says Kyiv and its allies in the West aren’t yet ready to end the war along the lines of Beijing’s 12-point proposal.
Mr. Putin made the remarks Tuesday at the conclusion of a second day of intensive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first foreign leader to visit Moscow since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Mr. Putin’s arrest in connection with alleged war crimes.
The Chinese plan contains little in the way of specifics, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government believes the proposal works in Moscow’s favour by suggesting an immediate ceasefire that would leave Russian troops in control of 15 per cent of Ukraine’s territory. The plan also emphasizes the importance of “territorial integrity” without clarifying whether that applies to Ukraine’s borders before the invasion – that is, whether it accepts Mr. Putin’s claim to have annexed five regions in southern and eastern Ukraine.
“We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and in Kyiv. However, so far, we see no such readiness from their side,” Mr. Putin said after three hours of meetings inside the Grand Kremlin Palace.
The West, Mr. Putin said, appears willing to continue fighting “to the last Ukrainian” – a reference to the military and economic support that Western governments have provided Kyiv to help it resist the 13-month-old Russian assault.
Mr. Xi – fresh from brokering an unexpected détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia – tried to position the Chinese plan for Ukraine as consistent with international law, even as he called for closer ties with a Russian state that has refused to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory. “We are guided by the principles of the United Nations,” Mr. Xi said. “We are always for peace and dialogue.”
In a joint statement, the two leaders called on the United States to stop “undermining global strategic security” and pledged to hold more joint military drills. However, the statement also specified that the China-Russia relationship is not directed against any third country and does not constitute a “military-political alliance.” No mention was made of the fact that Russia wants China to provide it with artillery shells and other munitions to replenish stocks diminished by the intense fighting in Ukraine.
Yu Jie, a China expert at London-based policy institute Chatham House, said Mr. Putin’s public embrace of the Chinese plan was likely based in part on the knowledge that it would not be accepted by Ukraine or the West. “President Putin knows too well that the collective West and Kyiv are not ready to accept this so-called ‘peace plan’ proposed by Beijing. Putin used the words ‘paying great attention’ without saying whether he agrees,” Dr. Yu wrote in an e-mail, adding that it wasn’t clear how the plan would be implemented even if it were suddenly accepted by all sides. “Xi referred to the talk as being ‘friendly, frank and open,’ which implies some disagreements remain between Beijing and Moscow.”
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Mr. Xi is reportedly planning to speak with Mr. Zelensky after his visit to Moscow. If that happens, it will be the first time the two leaders have spoken since the start of the Russian invasion, which was launched three weeks after Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met in Beijing to declare that their countries’ friendship was “without limits.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky said his government had proposed that China join a Ukrainian-led peace initiative – which calls for a complete Russian withdrawal, the payment of reparations and the establishment of a special international tribunal to prosecute alleged war crimes – but had yet to receive a response. “We offered China to become a partner in the implementation of the peace formula. We passed over our formula across all channels. We invite you to dialogue. We are waiting for your answer,” Mr. Zelensky said.
In a sign of the deepening rivalries and alliances developing in both Europe and Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Tuesday, arriving in Kyiv just as Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin were meeting in the Kremlin. Japan is set to host this year’s G7 summit, and Mr. Zelensky said Tuesday that Mr. Kishida had invited him to attend the meeting, via video link, when it is held in May in Mr. Kishida’s hometown of Hiroshima.
Mr. Kishida also visited the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, where more than 400 civilians were killed during a month-long Russian occupation last March. “The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago. I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here,” he said after laying a wreath at a local church.
In an apparent response to Mr. Kishida’s trip, two Russian strategic bombers flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours Tuesday. Japan has its own territorial dispute with Russia that dates back to the end of the Second World War.
Russia’s brazen assault on Ukraine has also raised concerns that China may use the moment to pursue its own claims to Taiwan or even a small island chain controlled by Japan that Beijing says is Chinese territory. In December, Mr. Kishida’s government announced a 20-per-cent increase in military spending, putting Japan on course to have the world’s third-largest defence budget, after the United States and China.
In Moscow, the Russian and Chinese delegations also discussed plans to build a second pipeline, to be known as Power of Siberia 2, that would deliver 50 billion cubic metres of Russian natural gas per year to China via Mongolia. Kremlin-controlled Gazprom already supplies 62 billion cubic metres of gas per year to China through the original Power of Siberia pipeline.
The second pipeline would help Russia’s gas exports – a crucial part of its economy – recover from plummeting sales to Europe. Last year, Russia exported 62 billion cubic metres to the European Union, down from 177 three years earlier.
Russia has become increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy since the invasion of Ukraine, with trade between the two countries climbing 34.3 per cent last year as Moscow was battered by Western sanctions. In televised mid-meeting remarks Tuesday, Mr. Putin said he hoped Chinese businesses would continue to replace the Western companies that had left the Russian market.
Mr. Xi appeared to welcome the suggestion. “The early harvest of co-operation can be seen, and further co-operation is being advanced,” he said. Chinese state media reported that Mr. Xi had also invited Mr. Putin to make a return visit to China later this year to attend the third meeting of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, an international infrastructure-building project that is seen as personally important to the Chinese leader.
Mr. Xi’s trip to Moscow comes days after The Hague-based ICC issued a warrant for Mr. Putin’s arrest in connection with the alleged deportation of children from the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
China, like Russia, is not a party to the ICC, and Mr. Xi – whose government has been accused of overseeing a network of detention camps in the Xinjiang region of China (which the ICC does not have the authority to investigate) – made no mention of the ICC or the charges against Mr. Putin.