(Moscow) Vladimir Putin said Monday he was “open” to discussing China’s peace plan for Ukraine with Xi Jinping, who in turn hailed the “close relations” between Russia and China at the start of the long-awaited meeting in Moscow.
Xi’s three-day state visit to Russia, which began on Monday, comes just over a year after the outbreak of Russia’s offensive against Ukraine, which caused geopolitical and economic upheaval.
Despite its privileged relations with Moscow in full tension with the West, Beijing, which claims diplomatic influence to match the weight of the Chinese economy, poses as a mediator and last month proposed an initiative to settle the conflict.
“We are always open to a process of negotiations. We will undoubtedly discuss all these issues, including your initiatives, which we treat with respect,” Putin said at the start of an “informal” meeting with Xi in the Kremlin, broadcast on Russian television.
For his part, the Chinese president praised the “close relations” between Beijing and Moscow, which have “comprehensive strategic cooperation”, according to the official Russian translation of his remarks.
For Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi’s visit in the form of support is all the more important as he is increasingly isolated in the West and targeted since last week by an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for “war crimes”.
The Kremlin said their “informal” tete-a-tete would be followed by dinner, before more formal talks on Tuesday, with the expected signing of agreements to deepen Russian-Chinese cooperation.
If China, strong from its role in the recent reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, puts forward its plan for Ukraine, it has difficulty convincing Western countries.
London nevertheless said on Monday it “hoped” that Mr. Xi would urge Mr. Putin to “stop the atrocities” in Ukraine.
The United States, for its part, accuses China of considering supplying arms to Russia, which Beijing firmly denies.
Kyiv, which politely welcomed China’s peace plan, on Monday urged Xi to “use his influence on Moscow to end the war of aggression.”
According to the American daily The Wall Street Journal, Xi Jinping could have a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once he returns to China.
As if to signify its support for Kyiv in the face of Beijing’s support for Moscow, the European Union announced on Monday that it had released two billion euros to buy and deliver artillery ammunition to Ukraine.
But this summit also aims to display the understanding between Russia and China, at a time when these two countries are experiencing strong tensions with the West, even if Moscow seems more dependent on Beijing than the reverse.
In an article in a Russian newspaper, Xi Jinping described his trip as a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace”.
“We have a lot of common tasks and goals,” Putin stressed to Xi on Monday.
In an article published in a Chinese daily, Mr. Putin said that Russian-Chinese relations had “reached the highest point in their history”.
Isolated in Europe and now under an ICC arrest warrant, Mr. Putin can once again count on the support of Beijing.
Chinese diplomacy on Monday called on the ICC, headquartered in The Hague (Netherlands), to avoid any “politicization” and to respect the immunity of heads of state.
Moscow, for its part, reacted by announcing Monday a criminal investigation against several magistrates of the ICC.
In a sign of defiance, Mr. Putin traveled this weekend to Mariupol, a Ukrainian city devastated by Russian bombing.
Beyond diplomatic support for Russia, which has massively reoriented its economy towards China in the face of Western sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine, Mr. Xi’s visit also has economic significance.
Russia has notably increased its hydrocarbon exports to Asian giants, such as China, to compensate for European embargoes. This makes it increasingly dependent on Beijing, analysts say.
According to the Kremlin, MM. Putin and Xi will sign several documents, including on Russian-Chinese economic cooperation by 2030.