(Paris) Why now, to get what? The scope of the call between Volodymyr Zelensky and Xi Jinping remains mysterious, but their conversation on Wednesday carries the seeds of the danger for Kyiv and its allies of being seen as warmongers refusing the peace promoted by Beijing.
This phone call was long awaited between the Ukrainian president, who is resisting the Russian invasion with Western support, and the Chinese president, an objective ally of Moscow, who wants to be the architect of a new world order.
If it had not yet taken place, it was because Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned Xi that he was “not ready to negotiate”, said Singaporean researcher and diplomat Chan Heng Chee last week during a meeting. a conference of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
According to Beijing, Kyiv is at the origin of the call although it is “ impossible at this stage that China can be considered a credible mediator ”, noted the American researcher Dan Baer during the same conference.
But “ Ukraine needs to drastically change the political and military dynamics of the conflict ”, estimated Can Kasapoglu, of the Hudson Institute, shortly before the meeting between the two heads of state. “The status quo is untenable. »
Because the Ukrainian lines only hold thanks to Western military support, which provides equipment, weapons and ammunition, at a rate already lower than Kyiv’s needs.
However, support for the Ukrainian cause is in danger of weakening. The share of Americans who believe that aid to Ukraine is too much is only increasing, from 7% in March 2022 to 26% in January 2023, according to the Pew Research Center.
“This drop in popular support will probably increase in the coming months, regardless of the evolution of the conflict,” said researcher Marlène Laruelle of George Washington University.
Because “ if the Ukrainian counter-offensive is successful, calls for diplomatic negotiations will increase, while if it fails, calls for concessions to obtain a ceasefire will increase ”, she writes in a report of the Franco-Russian observatory.
Kyiv has been announcing this major counter-offensive for weeks. But, regardless of its ability to break through enemy lines on the battlefield, “Ukraine will only be able to consolidate its territory through diplomatic means”, believes Can Kasapoglu.
The Chinese peace offer is based on its 12-point plan published in February. The content of what Xi proposed to Zelensky this week “cannot be very different,” said Jean-François Di Meglio, French researcher based in Taiwan, head of the Asia Center.
Among them, “ two principles ” are essential for Bertrand Badie, professor at Sciences Po in Paris: “ that of territorial integrity, which can only satisfy Ukraine, and the principle of collective security ” which can offer Moscow an exit door.
This is about “defining an order that will lead Moscow to say: ‘you see, we did well to bang our fists on the table, we have arrived at a more favorable situation'”, he declared on LCI. But for territorial integrity, “ there is not much negotiation possible. Simply, there is the issue of Crimea which is extraordinarily complex”.
Volodymyr Zelensky also highlighted after the telephone exchange that “Ukraine and China both believe in the strength of the sovereignty of nations and territorial integrity”.
But “what does the integrity of Ukraine mean for the Chinese? We do not know anything ! responds Mr. Di Meglio. “What borders? Are they planning a referendum on Donbass? which might be unacceptable to Zelensky.
Be that as it may, “China is really entering into the great diplomatic game, it is the pursuit of their agenda for new global governance”, he analyzes.
“Whether true or false, the Chinese message is that anyone of good will who wants to work on a peace plan will be welcome and that China will be there”, he adds.
“They don’t want to make peace on their own,” Chan said. “ There will be other actors ” in the process.
One thing seems certain: the danger for Kyiv and the West of playing the wrong role, that of diehards. “ This is the huge trap ”, assures Mr. Di Meglio, while part of the world sends Kyiv and Moscow back to back, or judges, like Brazilian President Lula, that Washington “ encourages war ”.
China could start by proposing a ceasefire. But “ it is not something that Ukraine wants now because Crimea, Donbass and other territories remain occupied ”, estimated during the Carnegie symposium the American researcher Yawei Liu.
Washington has already warned on Wednesday that “ if there is to be a negotiated peace, it must come when President Zelensky is ready for it […] and when he can do it from a position of strength ”.
But the Chinese may also have an interest in getting really involved in peace building: “ imagine that the Chinese initiative works”, elaborates Mr. Di Meglio. “This gives them incomparable strength on the Taiwanese file. »