Moscow: Vladimir Putin and his “dear friend” Chinese leader Xi Jinping planned more talks on Tuesday after a Kremlin dinner where the isolated Russian president curried favour with his most powerful ally in the face of Western opposition to the war in Ukraine. Coming just days after an international court accused Putin of war crimes, Washington denounced Xi’s visit, saying it showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit more crimes. Making his first trip abroad since obtaining an unprecedented third term earlier this month, Xi has been trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, even as he deepens economic ties with his closest ally. Putin and Xi greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin on Monday, and Russian state news agencies later reported they held informal talks for nearly 4-1/2 hours, with more official talks scheduled for Tuesday.
In televised comments, Putin told Xi he viewed China’s proposals for the resolution of the Ukraine conflict with respect. Xi, for his part, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.
Ukraine was still awaiting confirmation of whether Xi would be speaking on a call to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss Beijing’s peace proposal, Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“That would be an important move. They have things to say to each other,” Vereshchuk told the newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.
Moscow has been publicly promoting plans for a visit by Xi for months. But the timing gave the Chinese leader’s personal support new meaning, after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Friday accusing Putin of war crimes for deporting children from Ukraine.
Denying the charges, Moscow said it has taken in orphans to protect them, and it opened a criminal case against the ICC’s prosecutor and judges. Beijing said the warrant reflected double standards.
“That President Xi is travelling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“Instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those grave crimes.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said Xi should use his influence to press Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine, and Washington was concerned that Beijing might instead call for a ceasefire that would let Russian troops stay.
China has released a proposal to solve the Ukraine crisis, largely dismissed in the West as a ploy to buy Putin time to regroup his forces and solidify his grip on occupied land.
Foreign policy analysts said while Putin would be looking for strong support from Xi over Ukraine, they doubted his Moscow visit would result in any military backing.
Washington has said in recent weeks it fears China might arm Russia, which Beijing has denied.
Yu Jie, senior research fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, at Chatham House in London, said Xi’s entourage does not include any senior members from the People’s Liberation Army.
“This may send a clear message that Beijing is unlikely to offer any direct military support to Moscow despite what some pundits have asserted,” she said.
Kyiv, which says the war cannot end until Russia pulls out its troops, cautiously welcomed Beijing’s peace proposal when it was unveiled last month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that China arming Russia could lead to World War Three and has called for Xi to speak to him.