Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Putin and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, departing Moscow after a friendly visit this week, did not discuss “the Ukrainian peace formula” in their hours of dialogue together.
Xi arrived in Moscow on Monday, a trip planned after Putin invited the Chinese communist leader to his country during a call in December. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry has remained tight-lipped about the details of the visit, Russian news agencies reported that the two leaders engaged in a 4.5-hour meeting on Monday, the first of several discussion sessions focusing on trade, mutual diplomatic aid, and other key topics. Xi’s visit concluded on Wednesday.
The Chinese government, through its state media arms, has heavily touted the trip as an opportunity for Xi to insert himself into the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The invasion began with the colonization of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 but did not attract significant concern for nearly a decade before rising to become a top European and American government priority last year after Putin launched a “special operation” to oust democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
China has carefully straddled the line of neutrality in the conflict, enthusiastically supporting Putin generally but maintaining ties to the Ukrainian government. Ukraine is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure debt trap scheme, and Zelensky has consistently urged Xi to reach out to him and help resolve the invasion.
Xi has refused to speak directly to Zelensky at press time. Asked why on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters, “our position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear. China maintains communication with all sides.”
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday that Xi did not discuss the peace plan proposed by Zelensky with Putin. Rather, Xi promoted the Chinese “peace plan,” which consists of opposition to sanctions on Russia, generic statements against using nuclear weapons, and a call for everyone involved to “calm down as soon as possible.”
“No, the Ukrainian peace formula was not discussed, there was an exchange of opinions on the provisions of the Chinese peace plan,” Peskov clarified, according to the Russian news agency Tass.
Peskov refused to comment on Xi’s refusal to speak to Zelensky, calling their relationship “a matter that concerns China-Ukraine bilateral relations.”
The Russian government has not embraced the Chinese “peace plan” enthusiastically, politely thanking Beijing for its interjection without taking any action to implement the document. Putin himself blamed Ukraine for Russia’s inability to react to the Chinese plan with any seriousness.
“We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with the Russian stance and can be taken as a foundation for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for it in the West and in Kyiv,” Putin said this week, “However, so far we have not observed such readiness on their part.”
The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik, interviewing a friendly “former international security analyst,” downplayed Xi’s attempt to mediate the Ukraine war by claiming that “the media,” not the Chinese government, was over-emphasizing the Ukraine issue in talks between the two dictators.
“President Xi is in Moscow already and the media already is focusing too much about what he’s going to be talking about: Ukraine … Ukraine is going to be just part of the conversation,” the analyst, David Oualaalou was quoted as saying. Oualaalou insisted that attempts to “truly cripple the US dollar in every transactions [sic] between the countries” were more important than discussion of Ukraine.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, the first day it engaged in any substantive discussion of the Xi visit to Moscow, emphasized Xi’s attempts to involve China in the Ukraine conflict, contrary to Russian media.
“The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on the Ukraine issue. President Xi stressed that, on the Ukraine issue, voices for peace and rationality are building,” Wang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. “China released a document on its position on the Ukraine crisis, advocating the political settlement of the crisis and rejecting the Cold War mentality and unilateral sanctions. China believes that the more difficulties there are, the greater the need to keep space for peace.”
“President Putin said that Russia appreciates China for consistently upholding an impartial, objective, and balanced position and standing for fairness and justice on major international issues,” Wang added. “Russia has carefully studied China’s position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine issue and is open to talks for peace. Russia welcomes China to play a constructive role in this regard.”
In Kyiv, Zelensky again made a futile effort to recruit Xi to his cause and promote his version of a peace plan.
“We conveyed our peace formula and an invitation to participate in this formula to China both publicly and through diplomatic channels. We invite [China] to dialogue, we wait for an answer,” Zelensky said on Tuesday. The Ukrainian president made the remarks alongside Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, making a surprise visit to Kyiv. Zelensky’s warm welcome to the conservative Kishida, one of Beijing’s most hated world leaders, likely did little to entice China to aid Ukraine.
Unlike the Chinese plan, which demands an immediate ceasefire and end to all sanctions on Russia, the Ukrainian version, as Zelensky presented it to the United Nations last year, begins with “punishment” for Russia.
“Blocking the trade and relations with the aggressor is a part of the peace formula. All this is a punishment. So long as the aggressor is a party to decision-making in the international organizations, he must be isolated from them – at least until aggression lasts,” Zelensky told the U.N. General Assembly last year. “Reject the right to vote. Deprive delegation rights. Remove the right of veto – if it is a Member of the UN Security Council.”
Zelensky also proposed the creation of a special international tribunal for Russian soldiers who engaged in suspected war crimes and third-party “security guarantees” for Ukraine.
Zelensky explicitly rejected talks with Russia on the occasion of the debut of his peace plan, recalling, ““We held 88 rounds of talks in various formats to prevent this war, just from the beginning of my presidency until February 24 this year .”
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