Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with China's President Xi Jinping (L) at the Kremlin in Moscow on Monday as Xi began a three-day visit to the Russian capital that will include his first face-to-face meeting with Putin since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Photo by Kremlin Pool/UPI | License Photo
March 20 (UPI) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on Monday as he kicked off a three-day visit to Moscow as he attempts to position himself as an impartial broker of peace on the international stage.
Xi arrived at Moscow's Vnukovo airport at around 1 p.m., MSK, where he was greeted at the gangway by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyskenko, other senior officials and a military orchestra that played the national anthems of both China and Russia during a welcoming ceremony.
The Chinese leader then read prepared remarks, stating it was his "great pleasure" to be in Russia again, with Monday's visit being his first to the country since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
"China and Russia are friendly neighbors connected by shared mountains and rivers," Xi said, according to an English translation of the remarks by China's state-run news organization CGTN.
He also described the two nations as major political powers who "play important roles in international affairs" and that during his visit he'll work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to "safeguard the international order underpinned by international law," uphold multilateralism and global governance.
Xi then met Putin in the Kremlin with a statement from Beijing's foreign ministry stating that after a group photo the world leaders held an "in-depth and frank exchange on Sino-Russian issues of common concern."
The pair stressed a further deepening of their countries' ties, with Xi promoting his 12-point peace plan announced last month for Ukraine, which Putin had praised in a statement on Sunday, calling it a "well-balanced stance on the events in Ukraine."
"We believe that the more difficult it is, the more space it is to leave room for peace; the more conflicting it is, the more we can't give up dialogue efforts," Xi said Monday, according his foreign ministry. "China is willing to play a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the Ukraine Issue."
China's peace plan includes "respecting the sovereignty of all countries," restarting peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, ending hostilities and ending wartime sanctions against Russia. U.S. officials have voiced skepticism over the plan.
The Monday-to-Wednesday trip was announced late last week and both countries have since described it as a state visit that will bolster the cooperation between the neighboring nations and deepen their mutual trust and understanding.
Ahead of his arrival in Moscow, Xi penned a lengthy statement published Monday framing the visit as "a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace."
"I look forward to working with President Putin to jointly adopt a new vision, a new blueprint and new measures for the growth of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in the years to come," Xi said.
China has attempted to position itself as having the political power to broker peace to end the year-old war in Ukraine. Most recently, China secured an agreement to normalize diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Putin also attempted to cast Russia as being open to finding a political and diplomatic solution to its war, which he blamed democratic nations for enflaming.
The Russian leader has repeatedly accused NATO of deepening the conflict and being a cause of the war, and tried Monday to present the Russia-China alliance as "literally and figuratively building bridges" and the defensive military bloc as jeopardizing nuclear security and "striving for a global reach of activities and seeking to penetrate the Asia-Pacific."
The meeting, which is to be closely watched by democratic nations, was announced as relations between the West and China continue to deteriorate and Putin's war in Ukraine further isolates him from the international community -- an isolation that has pushed him closer to Beijing.
Putin's growing dependency on Beijing has also raised worries in Washington over the possibility that China may begin to supply it with weaponry.
Over the weekend, Putin also risked arrest by visiting the illegally annexed Ukrainian province of Crimea on Saturday and the occupied city of Mariupol on Sunday in a bid to project an image of power after the International Criminal Court on Friday issued a warrant for his detention over accusations of forcibly deporting children from Ukraine to Russia amid his war.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington said Xi's trip to Russia despite an arrest warrant having been issued for his Russian host suggests China does not feel a need to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities it has committed in Ukraine and that the Chinese leader would rather "provide diplomatic cover" for it to continue committing war crimes.
He told reporters during a press briefing that they expect Xi will reiterate calls for a ceasefire under his plan and that they welcome any initiate that advances a just and durable peace but this plan will effectively hand Ukrainian territory over to Moscow.
"Calling for a ceasefire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the rectification of Russian conquest," he said, stating a ceasefire would recognize Putin's attempts to seize Ukrainian land and allow his forces to further entrench themselves, rest and restart the war when it was more advantageous to do so.
The United States has said it has called on Xi to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Kyiv's own peace proposal, and on Monday, Blinken reiterated such encouragement.
"If China is committed to supporting an end to the war based on the principles of the U.N. Charter as called for in one point of its plan, it can engage with President Zelensky and Ukraine on this basis and use its influence to compel Moscow to pull back its forces," he said.
The White House on Monday also voiced skepticism over Xi's trip and his plan, stating that they are concerned that China will call for a ceasefire.
Concerning the potential of China arming Russia in the war, national security advisor John Kirby told reporters that "we'll see what they come out of this meeting talking about."
"We still don't believe that China has taken it off the table," he said, adding that they do not see any indication that they are moving toward that direction.
"We continue to believe it's not in China's best interest to do that, to help Mr. Putin slaughter innocent Ukrainians."
The trip, according to Xi, is his eighth to Russia in his 10 years at Beijing's helm.
September was the last time the two leaders met in person during a summit in Uzbekistan, during which they vowed to continue developing their strategic partnership.