Ukraine live briefing: Russia has ‘high’ expectations for Xi Jinping’s visit, Putin says, and is open to a diplomatic resolution to the war

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Ukraine's Mariupol as seen in video released by state media on March 19. (Video: Russian Pool via Reuters)
7 min

Russian President Vladimir Putin championed the much anticipated visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow on Monday and claimed it will give a “powerful new impetus” to the strong bilateral relationship between their two countries. The visit comes amid heightened tensions between the East and the West over the war in Ukraine, and more broadly, it signifies Beijing’s strong partnership with Moscow — or as both leaders have put it, a “friendship without limits.”

In an article posted Sunday on the official Kremlin website, Putin said Russia is “open to a political and diplomatic resolution” to the war in Ukraine, which China has so far not condemned, and added that a peaceful end to the conflict depends only on “the will to engage in a meaningful discussion taking into account current geopolitical realities.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he would speak to Xi about peace proposals, but has said under no circumstance would he be willing to grant Russia control over occupied Ukrainian territory as part of peace negotiations.

China has sought to project itself as neutral in the conflict, putting forth a 12-point plan that called for a cease-fire, peace talks and an end to sanctions against Russia, but stopped short of calling for a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. It has also accused NATO, the United States and the West of provoking the war.

Key developments

  • Ahead of Xi’s visit, Putin made his own trip to Ukraine, just a day after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest over alleged war crimes. His itinerary on the visit to Mariupol, which Russia took in May after a brutal siege, was largely spontaneous, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Sunday. Putin visited an apartment complex, spoke to residents about their concerns and drove a car about the city, Peskov said. “We won’t bother you, please excuse us for dropping by so unexpectedly,” Putin told the inhabitants of a three-bedroom Mariupol apartment after appearing with television cameras, according to state TV.
  • Russia’s president traveled to the city in Donetsk by helicopter, according to RIA Novosti. It was Putin’s first visit to the eastern Donbas region, according to Tass, and it comes a year after Russia’s bombardment of the Mariupol Drama Theater. Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian regions that Putin illegally claimed to have annexed in September.
  • Russia’s equivalent of the FBI has ordered an investigation of Buschmann’s comments, according to a Saturday post on its Telegram page. Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee, had called the ICC’s arrest warrant illegal on Friday, saying his agency would try to identify the judges who issued the warrant.
  • Ukrainian officials criticized Putin’s visit as a carefully orchestrated stunt, undertaken in darkness to minimize the damage his forces had wreaked on the city during a months-long siege. The Russian leader traveled at night “as befits a thief,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted. “The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said of the visit.

Xi’s trip to Moscow

  • Xi is set to begin a state visit Monday to Moscow, where he will meet with Putin in Beijing’s strongest show of support since the war began. The Kremlin said the two will discuss “deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation.” Beijing, which insists it is neutral in the conflict and has sought to portray itself as a potential mediator, said Xi will promote peace talks.
  • The Kremlin will publish a Putin-written article on Russia-China relations Sunday night, said Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman. Xi is also expected to release a similar article Sunday or early Monday, Peskov added.

Battleground updates

  • Russian missiles killed three civilians and wounded two in the village of Kamianske on Sunday, according to Zaporizhzhia regional authorities. Zaporizhzhia is another of the four regions that Russia illegally claimed to have annexed in September.
  • Russian forces sent 16 Iranian-made Shahed drones to attack Ukrainian facilities around Kyiv and western parts of the country overnight Saturday, according to Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat. Ukrainian forces struck down 11 of the 16 drones, he added, despite poor nighttime visibility. The Washington Post could not verify his claims.
  • Ukrainian forces defended positions along multiple fronts in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to a daily update posted Sunday by the Ukrainian army. “Bakhmut remains the epicenter of the fighting,” Kyiv military officials said. For months, Russian forces have laid siege to the city, where Ukraine’s army said Sunday its defenders had repelled attacks in the north.
  • The decision by Russian-backed officials this month to designate Melitopol, rather than the much larger city of Zaporizhzhia, as the regional capital of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region suggests that Moscow does not expect its troops to advance far soon, the British Defense Ministry said Sunday. “The quiet declaration of an alternative capital is likely tacit acknowledgment within the Russian system that its forces are highly unlikely to seize previously planned major objectives in the near future,” officials said.

Global impact

  • South Africa, an ICC member, knows its “legal obligation” ahead of an expected Putin visit, according to a presidential spokesman. “We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said, according to Reuters. “However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders.” Putin was expected to attend the 15th BRICS summit in South Africa this August, according to Reuters. The group of major emerging economies is named for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  • A group of European Union countries will sign an agreement Monday to buy artillery rounds for Ukraine, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified E.U. official. The pact aims to quickly provide Ukraine with more of the 155mm shells it has said are a vital need, as it burns through rounds in a war of attrition.
  • A Black Sea grain deal between Russia and Ukraine was extended on Saturday, although the two parties gave differing accounts for how long it would last: 60 or 120 days, respectively. Aid groups say the deal is essential to help avert a food crisis in parts of the Middle East and Africa. “It is concerning that the deal was possibly extended for only 60 days, rather than the previously agreed 120-day time frame,” said Harpinder Collacott, executive director for Europe of the nongovernmental aid organization Mercy Corps. “But any extension of the grain deal is nothing short of necessary.”
  • Ukraine issued sanctions on more than 400 individuals and companies, including prominent Iranians and Syrians accused of aiding in “terror,” Zelensky said Saturday. Most of the sanctions are on Russians, he added. The sanctions include the freezing of assets held in Ukraine, restrictions on trade, the suspension of economic and financial obligations, and the revocation of Ukrainian state awards, Tass reported.

From our correspondents

Russian conscripts plead for Putin’s intervention in ‘senseless assaults’: A flood of videos have appeared on Russian Telegram channels showing Russian conscripts appealing for better equipment before being sent to fight on the front lines. Scores of soldiers say they are being forced to storm Ukrainian positions without sufficient training, ammunition, or weapons, Francesca Ebel writes.

Siobhán O’Grady and Kamila Hrabchuk in Kyiv contributed to this report.