Putin welcomes China’s controversial proposals for peace in Ukraine

<span>Photograph: Mikhail Tereshchenko/AP</span>
Photograph: Mikhail Tereshchenko/AP

Vladimir Putin has welcomed China’s proposals for peace in Ukraine at a joint press conference with Xi Jinping in Moscow – a plan the west has warned would allow the Kremlin to “freeze” its territorial gains in the country.

Speaking at the Kremlin during a joint news conference after the second day of talks with China’s president, Xi Jinping, Putin said Beijing’s peace plan “correlates to the point of view of the Russian Federation” and said that Ukraine’s western allies so far have shown no interest in it.

China last month proposed a 12-point peace plan for dealing with the war. The paper largely reiterated Beijing’s talking points on the Ukraine war, with calls for dialogue, respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty, and an end to economic sanctions. It urged all parties to avoid nuclear escalation but critically did not suggest Russia withdraw its forces.

Related: ‘Good old friend’: Putin offers praise for Xi ahead of first trip to Russia since Ukraine invasion

On Monday, US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, voiced scepticism over China’s “peace” proposals, warning that they could be a “stalling tactic” to help Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine.

“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.”

On Tuesday, White House national security council spokesperson John Kirby said the US does not see China as capable of being an impartial mediator between Moscow and Kyiv over the war in Ukraine.

It was the most direct criticism yet of China’s aim to be a middleman in efforts to end the war.

“I don’t think you can reasonably look at China as impartial in any way,” he said.

He noted that China has refrained from criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has continued to buy Russian oil even as the west piles sanctions on Moscow’s energy industry to starve the Kremlin of money to pay for the war.

China, Kirby added, also “keeps parroting the Russian propaganda”.

Kyiv has previously said that any talks would be contingent on the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territory.

Xi, who seeks to play the role of global peacemaker, on Tuesday repeated China’s position that it supported peace talks and said that Beijing has always taken an “objective” and “impartial” view of the conflict. He added that he and Putin have “established close relations and built strategic communication”.

Xi’s statements, which carefully repeated Beijing’s previous position on the war, suggested that the talks provided no major breakthrough in the peace efforts.

Still, Xi’s trip to Moscow, his first state visit since the invasion, has been viewed as a major boost for Putin and provides Moscow with an opportunity to emphasise that it has not been isolated by the global community.

Speaking after their meeting on Tuesday, Putin said that the relationship between Russia and China was “at the peak of its historical development”.

Xi in turn said that “our two sides must enhance communication and cooperate closely, promoting new and greater advancement in practical cooperation between our two countries”.

Related: ‘He is my best friend’: 10 years of strengthening ties between Putin and Xi

As expected, the two countries also discussed the growing economic ties and energy cooperation during their three-hour-long talks on Tuesday.

By evening, the two sides announced that Putin and Xi had signed two joint documents: a statement on plans for economic cooperation and a statement on plans for deepening partnership.

Putin further said the two countries were close to “finalising” an agreement on the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, a major plan to reroute Russia’s gas exports from Europe to Asia. The pipeline has not been formally agreed but is expected to come online by 2030.

“We were just discussing a good project, the new Power of Siberia 2 pipeline via Mongolia. Practically all the parameters of that agreement have been finalised,” Putin told Xi.

Chinese government data this week showed that Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to be China’s top oil supplier in the first two months of 2023, as buyers bought up sanctioned Russian oil at steep discounts.

Earlier in the day Xi invited Putin to visit China this year in a symbolic show of support after the ICC arrest warrant dramatically restricted the Russian leader’s travel options.

The Chinese leader extended the invitation during a meeting on Tuesday morning with the Russian prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, as part of his state visit to Moscow.

Since his troops invaded Ukraine in February last year, Putin has only ventured once outside the former Soviet Union, for a trip to Iran.

Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the warrant further pushes the Russian leader into the Chinese orbit.

“If anything, the ICC arrest warrant for Putin only increases Chinese leverage over Russia. With Putin likely to be more cautious about his international travel going forward, China will turn into a few safe destinations where the Russian president is always welcome,” Gabuev said.

The sit-down between Xi and Putin was to be unexpectedly mirrored in Kyiv, where the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, was en route to meet the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Kishida and Zelenskiy are expected to discuss Japanese support for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Tokyo joined the US and other countries in imposing sanctions on Russia, prompting the Kremlin to add Japan to its list of “unfriendly” countries.

With Japan due to host this year’s G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, Kishida was under pressure to end his status as the group’s only leader yet to visit Kyiv.

Kishida, who represents a seat in Hiroshima, has pledged to use his G7 presidency to promote nuclear disarmament amid fears that Russia has not ruled out the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, showed footage of Kishida boarding a train at the Polish border town of Przemyśl. He is also due to hold talks with his Polish counterpart before returning to Japan on Thursday, the foreign ministry said.

China has sought to portray itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, but Washington has said Beijing’s moves could be a “stalling tactic” to help Moscow. The US has accused Beijing of considering exporting arms to Moscow, claims China has vociferously denied.

Blinken said Xi’s Moscow visit “suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the president accountable for the atrocities committed to Ukraine. And instead of even condemning, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those great crimes.”

Zelenskiy has said he would welcome talks with Xi, though there has been no indication from Beijing of any such plans.

Moscow and Beijing have over the past years ramped up cooperation, driven by a desire to counterbalance US global dominance.

Related: Xi Jinping says China ready to ‘stand guard over world order’ on Moscow visit

Analysts said Xi’s efforts on Ukraine are unlikely to yield a cessation of hostilities, but his trip is being closely watched in western capitals.

Xi’s visit was lauded in state-run Chinese media on Tuesday, with most coverage focused on Xi’s comments and the strength of the bilateral relationship. None of the pieces mentioned the recent ICC arrest warrant for Putin over alleged war crimes.

“The two sides have set a fine example for developing a new model of major country relations featuring mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation,” China Daily reported Xi as saying.

Official news agency Xinhua said exchanges between the two leaders were “the compass and anchor of China-Russia relations”, which were “brimming with new dynamism and vitality” under Xi and Putin. Multiple reports plastered the masthead’s online front page, and a separate page was dedicated to the visit.

Additional reporting by Justin McCurry in Tokyo