Chinese leader Xi Jinping visits Moscow days after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warmly welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping on a state visit to the Kremlin, sending a message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over its war in Ukraine have fallen short.
Xi’s trip – his first abroad since his re-election earlier this month – began on Monday, and showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger.
It also gave a political lift to Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.
The Chinese leader has been trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, even as he deepens economic ties with Moscow.
Putin and Xi greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin, and Russian state news agencies later reported they held informal talks for nearly four and a half hours on Monday, with further official talks scheduled for Tuesday.
In televised comments after they greeted each other, Putin told Xi he viewed China’s proposals for a resolution of the Ukraine war with respect.
He confessed to being “slightly envious” of China’s “very effective system for developing the economy and strengthening the state”.
Putin congratulated Xi on his re-election and voiced hope for building even stronger ties.
“China has made a colossal leap ahead in its development in recent years,” Putin said, adding that “it’s causing genuine interest all around the world, and we even feel a bit envious,” as Xi smiled.
Xi, for his part, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.
“Under your strong leadership, Russia has made great strides in its prosperous development,” he said.
The two powers have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship”.
The Kremlin leader welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement in Ukraine and noted Russia is open to talks.
“We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” Putin said. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
Sergey Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, told Al Jazeera that the main agenda of the meeting was setting up “infrastructure for an economic relationship”, and not the war in Ukraine.
“Russia and China have to build a global infrastructure, a new trade [relationship] without the influence of the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU,” he said.
“Both Xi and Putin don’t see [Ukrainian President Volodomyr] Zelenskyy as a leader of Ukraine, they believe he is a puppet of America,” Markov said, when asked about the two leaders’ thoughts on the war.
US questions ‘marriage of convenience’ relationship
Meanwhile, Washington criticised Xi’s visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit further crimes.
China has released a 12-point 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.
White House national security 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.
Kirby said Xi should speak with Zelenskyy about the impact of the war on Ukraine.
“We encourage President Xi to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The world and China’s neighbours will certainly be watching closely,” he told reporters on Monday.
Xi and Putin seem to be connected in “a bit of a marriage of convenience” rather than one of affection, Kirby said.
“These are two countries that have long chafed at US leadership around the world,” he said.
The two leaders will meet again for formal talks on Tuesday.