Updated Mar 20, 2023, 2:27pm EDT

Xi and Putin are meeting in Moscow. Here’s what you need to know

Chinese leader Xi Jinping walks past honour guards and members of a military band during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at an airport in Moscow, Russia, March 20, 2023. Kommersant Photo/Anatoliy Zhdanov via REUTERS
Kommersant Photo/Anatoliy Zhdanov via REUTERS

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The News

Chinese leader Xi Jinping landed in Moscow Monday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The pair are expected to discuss ways to enhance their two countries’ relationship, which will include conversations on “resolving” the Russian-Ukraine war.

The trip will last three days. Here’s what’s happened so far:

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Know More

Putin hails Xi’s ‘symbolic’ visit

Xi’s trip to Moscow is the first of his third term, and also his first visit to Russia since the country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Although the two leaders have previously met around 40 times, Putin said Xi’s current visit is a symbolic one, adding that the two countries have “plenty of common tasks and objectives.” Xi seemed to agree: Speaking Monday, he celebrated the two countries “close ties,” according to Russia state media

China’s peace plan to be discussed

Putin reportedly told Xi on Monday that he was open to discussing Beijing's peace plan for the Ukraine war. “We are always open to negotiations,” Putin said, adding that Moscow will discuss the issues, including Xi’s initiatives, “which we treat with respect, of course.” Xi laid out a 12-point peace plan last month which included an end to “unilateral sanctions.” The plan did not include that Russia should return occupied Ukrainian territory. It has been widely dismissed by Ukraine’s Western allies.

The world is watching the meeting closely

Ukraine’s foreign ministry is hopeful that Xi will use his influence to end the war. Speaking to AFP, Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said his country is watching the proceedings closely. “We expect Beijing to use its influence on Moscow to make it put an end to the aggressive war against Ukraine,” Nikolenko said. He’s not alone: A spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak largely echoed those hopes.

Increased economic cooperation

During the three days of meetings, Putin and Xi are also expected to sign dozens of agreements, according to The Wall Street Journal. A leading item on the agenda will be increasing economic cooperation. Russia, previously the world’s largest energy exporter, has relied heavily on China, in the face of Russian sanctions. In 2022, Moscow doubled its rail exports of liquefied petroleum gas to Beijing, industry data reports.

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Step Back

Following the success of a China-brokered deal that saw the return of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Xi is hoping China can cast a wider net over geopolitics. The Chinese leader has called for a “rational” way out of the Ukraine conflict but has not condemned Russia for annexing Ukrainian territory or conducting war crimes.

Xi also plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after meeting with Putin — though Zelenskyy said that the only way for the Ukraine conflict to be resolved is if Russia returned now-occupied Ukrainian land.

As Moscow and Kyiv prepare for a spring offensive, it’s unlikely that Xi’s “peacemaking” efforts will have much of an effect, observers say.

The International Criminal Court formally indicted Putin last week, claiming that it had sufficient evidence that showed the Russian president was responsible for carrying out war crimes, including the unlawful deportation of children from Ukrainian territory to Russia. Moscow, in response, said that it would criminally investigate the prosecutor and judges responsible for the ICC’s indictment.

Last week, China’s foreign ministry responded to Putin’s arrest warrant by saying that the court should “steer clear of politicization and double standards.”

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The View From the UK

Alicia Kearns, the chair of the U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Xi is prioritizing a “subdued Russia of no threat to China,” and alignment between the two countries on “autocratic rule over individual rights.”

Kearns, who is also part of the U.K. parliament's China Research Group, said it “shows Xi's true nature that he would meet with a man [indicted] last week by the ICC for the mass kidnap of children.”

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The View From Washington

Speaking to reporters on Monday about the State Department's recently released 2022 human rights report, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that Xi's "peace" proposals were a "stalling tactic" to help Russia gain an advantage.

"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 said.


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