Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow in a political boost for the ousted Russian president after the International Criminal Court indicted him for war crimes in Ukraine.
Xi’s government has not provided any details of what the Chinese leader hopes to achieve. Xi and Putin declared their “friendship without borders” before last February’s attack on Ukraine, but China has tried to portray itself as neutral. Beijing last month called for a cease-fire, but Washington said that would validate the Kremlin’s gains on the battlefield.
The Chinese government said Xi would visit Moscow from Monday to Wednesday, but gave no indication when he would leave. The Russian government said Xi was scheduled to arrive at midday and meet Putin later.
China views Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy and a partner in opposition to what both see as US dominance in world affairs.
Joseph Torigian, an expert on Sino-Russian relations at American University in Washington, said the meeting gives Putin and Xi an opportunity to prove they have “strong partners” at a time of tense relations with Washington.
“China can signal that it can do more to help Russia, and that if relations with the United States continue to deteriorate, it can do more to empower Russia and help Russia in its war against Ukraine,” Torigian said.
Beijing’s relations with Washington, Europe and its neighbors have been strained by disagreements over technology, security, human rights and the ruling Communist Party’s treatment of Hong Kong and Muslim minorities.
Some commentators have suggested that there may be similarities between Russia’s territorial claims to Ukraine and Beijing’s claim to Taiwan. The Communist Party says the island’s self-governing democracy, which seceded from China in 1949 after a civil war, is obligated to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary. The Xi government is stepping up its efforts to intimidate the island by flying fighter jets nearby and firing missiles into the sea.
China has stepped up purchases of Russian oil and gas, which has helped boost Kremlin revenue in the face of Western sanctions. Beijing appears to have largely complied with US warnings not to provide military support.
This week’s meeting follows the International Criminal Court’s announcement on Friday of accusations that Putin is personally responsible for the kidnapping of thousands of children from Ukraine.
Governments that recognize the jurisdiction of the court would be obligated to arrest Putin if he visits. Putin has yet to comment on the announcement, but the Kremlin dismissed the move as “outrageous and unacceptable”.
In a show of defiance, Putin over the weekend visited Crimea and the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Russian news reports showed him speaking with Mariupol residents and visiting a technical school and children’s center in Sevastopol, in Crimea.
In an article published Monday in Russia’s Russian newspaper, Xi said that China “actively promoted peace talks” but did not announce any initiatives.
“My next visit to Russia will be a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” Xi wrote, according to a transcript released by the official Xinhua News Agency.
“A reasonable way to solve the crisis can be found” if “all sides embrace the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” Xi wrote.
The trip follows the sudden announcement of a diplomatic thaw between Iran and Saudi Arabia after a meeting in Beijing, a diplomatic coup for Xi’s government.
Tourejian said Xi wants to be seen as a global statesman who “plays a constructive role” by talking about peace, but is unlikely to pressure Putin to end the war.
Torigian said Beijing is concerned about “potential Russian losses on the battlefield” but does not want to be seen as “enabling Russian aggression”.
“They are not going to spend political capital” on pressuring Moscow to make peace, “especially if they think it won’t get them anything,” he said.
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