RIGA, Latvia — Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping on Tuesday proclaimed their plans to deepen Sino-Russian political and economic cooperation for years to come — sending a strong message to the West about their determination to push back against the global domination of the United States.
As the ornate meeting rooms of the Kremlin provided an aura of pomp and ceremony despite the ugly background of Putin’s war on Ukraine, Xi described his visit as “a new chapter” in strengthening relations between Beijing and Moscow.
The summit was portrayed in China as part of a bold initiative to create a new world order, and Xi on Tuesday invited Putin to visit China this year, signaling that their most assertive joint stand against the West was just getting started.
At the end of a lavish state dinner, featuring Kamchatka crab croquettes with truffle oil and borscht with stewed duck, Xi told Putin: “There’s a change coming that hasn’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we are driving this change," according to video of their farewells. Putin replied: “I agree."
Meanwhile, in a display of how the sides are lining up for a new era of international animosity, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise trip Tuesday to Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In a highly symbolic move days after the International Criminal Court accused Putin of war crimes and issued an arrest warrant for him, Kishida visited Bucha, the city north of Kyiv where Russian occupying Russian soldiers are accused of committing brutal atrocities before the Ukrainian military forced them to retreat.
“The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago,” Kishida said, as reported by Reuters. “I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here. I would like to give condolence to the all victims and the wounded on behalf of the Japanese nationals. Japan will keep aiding Ukraine with the greatest effort to regain peace.”
Putin and Xi, in comments to reporters in Moscow, suggested no forward motion on China’s peace plan. That was expected, given that it did not address Russia’s continuing occupation of Ukrainian territory. The authoritarian leaders, positioned to rule for life, did not take questions.
Putin said much of China’s 12-point plan corresponds with Russia’s view and could form the basis of a future peace agreement, but only when Kyiv and the West were ready. “However, we are seeing no such readiness on their part,” he said.
In a joint statement, the leaders said Russia was willing to resume peace talks, as the Kremlin has been saying for months. Russian officials have said repeatedly that Ukraine must accept new political “realities,” in apparent reference to the large swaths of sovereign territory that Russia has claimed to annex, including Crimea, which Russia invaded in 2014 and has occupied since.
Xi said China has taken an unbiased position on the conflict and stands for peace and dialogue. “We are steadily guided by the goals and principles of the U.N. Charter,” the Chinese leader said. “We adhere to an objective and impartial position.”
To resolve the war, the leaders said “the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be respected.” They called for an end to “all moves that lead to tensions and the protraction of fighting to prevent the crisis from worsening or even getting out of control,” in what appeared to be an oblique reference to NATO weapons supplies to Kyiv.
Xi said China and Russia would continue “to resolutely uphold the fundamental norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter” — a claim that ignores that Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian lands violate the charter’s core precepts.
The U.N. General Assembly voted 141-7 last month to demand Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine and adherence to the charter. China was among 32 nations that abstained.
China’s plan has been criticized for lack of detail on key issues. Alexander Gabuev, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described it as a “fig leaf” and “laundry list of well-known Chinese positions” that nonetheless allows Xi to posture as the only world leader with a peace proposal.
Although the leaders said China was willing to play “a positive role” in seeking a settlement, there was no mention of whether Xi offered to act as a mediator to bring the parties together, which seemed to provide evidence for analysts’ view that the talks were more about deepening Chinese-Russian ties and cementing economic deals than ending the conflict in Ukraine at a moment when Beijing has huge economic and political leverage over Moscow.
They touched repeatedly on their growing confrontation with Washington, expressing “serious concerns” about what they called the United States’ military-biological activities, which they said posed a threat to “entire regions.” They said they opposed “external interference” in their affairs and criticized the recent deal among the United States, Britain and Australia for Canberra to buy nuclear submarines.
Xi said Chinese-Russian ties had “gone far beyond bilateral relations, and are of vital importance for the modern world order and the fate of mankind.”
Putin called Xi his “dear friend” and said relations between Russia and China had reached “the highest point in the entire history of our two countries.” He said the talks proceeded in a “warm, comradely and constructive atmosphere” and had been successful.
The leaders signed agreements on strategic cooperation and economic ties until 2030.
Xi’s willingness to visit during wartime and his effusive praise for the countries’ relationship have raised fears that Beijing could provide military aid to Russia to prevent its defeat.
The United States has threatened to impose economic sanctions if Beijing supplies arms. Senior Chinese officials have accused Washington of hypocrisy, given the huge flow of Western weapons to Kyiv.
Even now, Ukraine is waiting to take delivery of more powerful and sophisticated weapons, including tanks and air defense systems. Zelensky has pledged to reclaim all territory occupied by Russia.
Analysts say China could supply arms to Russia because it fears Moscow’s defeat might trigger the collapse of Putin’s regime, destabilizing the country and potentially ushering in a Western-leaning government.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, told reporters in Brussels that he had seen no proof that China was delivering lethal weapons to Russia, “but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities.”
Among Putin’s main motivations for invading Ukraine in 2014 was the country’s Maidan Revolution, in which citizens protested for months after then-President Viktor Yanukovych broke a promise to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union. Ultimately, Yanukovych fled Ukraine, abandoning his office and seeking refuge in Russia.
In their joint statement Tuesday, Putin and Xi agreed to intensify cooperation on public security and law enforcement “to counter ‘color revolutions,’” as well as terrorism and cross-border crime, Russian media reported.
Their meetings Tuesday began with narrow-format talks with a limited group of officials before they moved to a wider group that included the heads of Russian state-owned energy giants.
A key focus in Tuesday’s sessions was deepening economic cooperation, as Russia turns increasingly to China as a market for its oil and gas after largely losing access to its longtime customers in Europe. Putin said Russia would help Chinese companies replace the hundreds of Western businesses that fled Russia after the invasion.
The day was full of ceremony. As Xi’s limousine arrived at the Kremlin for the formal talks, guards on black horses flanked the entrance.
Putin entered through the gilded doors of St. George’s Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace to a drumroll and a blast of triumphal music. Then he and Xi walked to each other across the vast hall, with its golden chandeliers and ornate soaring ceilings.
In a carefully choreographed moment, they shook hands, and then stood side by side, flanked by two huge flags of Russia and China, for the national anthems.
But the specter of war cast a shadow over Tuesday’s diplomatic rituals.
With no news emerging on the Chinese peace proposal, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak rejected any attempt to “freeze the conflict.” He did not mention China.
“Any attempt to ‘freeze the conflict,’ protract it, ‘cease fire’ will mean one thing — an unfinished war smoldering in the heart of Europe and constant erosion of the foundations of global security,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. “Draw the right conclusions and do not use the word ‘peace’ in [Russian] interests.”
In a striking contrast with the gilded pageantry, Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, raided the premises of the prominent human rights group Memorial on Tuesday. The organization, which for decades documented Soviet rights abuses, was closed by authorities last year. It was a co-recipient last year of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The raid was related to charges against unidentified employees accused of “rehabilitating Nazism.” Police also raided the homes of several figures associated with Memorial.
Kuo reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Natalia Abbakumova in Riga contributed to this report.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.
A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.
Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.