Putin, Xi touch on Ukraine in Moscow talks as Japan PM turns up in Kyiv

A U.S. envoy contrasted China's backing for the Russian aggressor with Japan's support for the victims.
By Paul Eckert for RFA
2023.03.21
Putin, Xi touch on Ukraine in Moscow talks as Japan PM turns up in Kyiv Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony following their talks at The Grand Kremlin Palace, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Kremlin Pool via Associated Press

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held hours of talks in Moscow on Tuesday, vowing a deeper partnership between the two anti-western, nuclear-armed powers in meetings overshadowed by a surprise trip to Ukraine by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Wearing matching red ties on the second day of a state visit to show Chinese support for Russia in the face of Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, Xi and Putin held a dramatic ceremony in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall, meeting on a long red carpet under large national flags.

Russian state news agency TASS reported that their informal meeting had lasted nearly four and a half hours, with a second, formal meeting to be held later Tuesday.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via Associated Press
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via Associated Press
Putin said he and Xi had signed joint statements on plans for economic cooperation and on deepening their partnership, which has grown as Beijing and Moscow increasingly seek a united front against the U.S. and the West. Xi said he invited Putin to visit China later this year for a top-level meeting of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

A statement on Ukraine issued late on Tuesday reinforced a clear message of Chinese support for Russia in the conflict, despite Beijing's assertion of neutrality.

"Russia welcomes China's readiness to play a positive role in a political-diplomatic settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and the constructive ideas set forth in the document drawn up by the Chinese side," said the statement, translated by Reuters news agency.

"The Chinese side positively assesses the willingness of the Russian side to make efforts to restart peace talks as soon as possible," it said without elaborating.

Japan PM in Kyiv

As the Moscow meetings unfolded, Japan's Kishida, who will chair the Group of Seven summit in May, made his way by train to Kyiv for a meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Japanese leader also visited Bucha, scene of an alleged massacre last year by Russian forces, and laid a wreath outside a church.

"I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here," Kishida said.

Zelenskyy called Kishida "a truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine," after they met in central Kyiv, according to Reuters.

Local resident Volodymyr Alipov, 58, pets a dog amid the remains of his house destroyed last year by a Russian airstrike on the village of Tsyrkuny, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Monday, March 20, 2023. The United States and its allies are wary of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine. Credit: Reuters
Local resident Volodymyr Alipov, 58, pets a dog amid the remains of his house destroyed last year by a Russian airstrike on the village of Tsyrkuny, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Monday, March 20, 2023. The United States and its allies are wary of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine. Credit: Reuters
Kishida's trip, the first by a post-war Japanese leader to a war zone, showed “two very different European-Pacific partnerships,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel tweeted on Tuesday.

“Kishida stands with freedom, and Xi stands with a war criminal,” Emanuel said, referring to an arrest warrant issued Friday by the International Criminal Court, which wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.

Denying the abduction allegations, Vassily Nebenzia, a top Kremlin envoy to the United Nations, said in a briefing at the U.N. on Monday that Russia took the children because it “wanted to spare them of the danger that military activities may bring,” the Associated Press reported.

Kremlin talking points

The United States and its allies remain wary of Xi's 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, because it backs major Kremlin talking points and fails to call for the removal of Russian occupying troops from Ukraine's territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday warned against a ceasefire that left the conflict unresolved and would allow Russia to rearm and resume fighting at a time of its choice.

"The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms," Blinken told reporters in Washington.

Defending China's proposal from the podium in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Washington of prolonging the conflict. 

"The U.S. should view objectively the efforts of China and the wider world to promote peace talks, rather than hold on to the Cold War mentality, still less be a factor in the protraction and escalation of conflict," he said. 

"What we call for boils down to supporting talks for peace," added Wang.

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