Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow on Monday for three days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a visit eyed warily by the U.S. and Western allies.
Xi’s first visit since Russia invaded Ukraine would appear to show support for Putin, who needs trade deals and bullets as he faces pressure from economic sanctions and reports that his military is running low on ammunition and fighting equipment.
“It gives me great pleasure to once again set foot on the soil of Russia, our friendly neighbor,” said Xi, who added that he first visited as president 10 years ago.
China has called for a cease-fire and peace talks, a plan praised by Moscow but rejected by Kyiv because it would keep Russian troops in occupied territory.
“We will discuss … your initiative that we highly respect,” Putin said after the leaders shook hands. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
The trip comes days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of war crimes in Ukraine. Neither Russia, China nor the U.S. is a member of the ICC, a Netherlands-based court that claims universal jurisdiction for war-related crimes.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Xi’s visit “suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine and, instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes.’’
The Kremlin said the two leaders will discuss a “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.” Western officials have expressed concern that Putin could ask Xi to supply Russia with weapons, but Beijing has described the trip as one of “friendship and peace.”
China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and professes to be neutral in the conflict. Beijing portrays itself as a peacemaker, citing Xi’s recent success in brokering talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia that resulted in restored diplomatic ties between the longtime adversaries.
“The formula for the successful implementation of China’s ‘Peace Plan’… is the capitulation or withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from territory in accordance with the norms of international law and the UN Charter,” Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s national security chief, tweeted Monday.
►An explosion in the city of Dzhankoi, in the northern part of Russian-occupied Crimea, destroyed Russian Kalibr cruise missiles as they were being transported by rail, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Monday. As has been the case with previous incidents that damaged military equipment in Crimea, Ukraine did not claim responsibility.
►Ukraine does not reveal its number of military casualties — dead and wounded — from the war, but Oleksiy Danilov, the country’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, denied they were “upwards of 100,000” as Politico has reported. “During the war this is closed information,” Danilov told Ukraine’s Interfax news agency, “but 100,000 is completely untrue.”
►A war crimes conference in London attended Monday by justice ministers from more than 40 countries raised nearly $5 million to support the ICC’s investigations of Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
►The Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case against the ICC’s top prosecutor and several judges, saying the arrest warrants issued by the ICC for Putin and children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova were illegal.
►Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court ruled Monday in favor of confiscating the 66.6% of the Kyiv mall Ocean Plaza that belonged to four Russian oligarchs. The seized assets were valued at $300 million.
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The International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Putin will have “monstrous consequences” for international law, a top Russian official warned Monday. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council and a former president, said the ICC has destroyed its credibility by failing to prosecute purported U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“A gloomy sunset of the entire system of international relations is coming, trust is exhausted,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel.
He described the court as a “pathetic international organization,” musing that a Russian missile could strike the court and said the ICC judges shouldn’t have taken action against a major nuclear power because “everyone is answerable to God and missiles.”
Xi’s visit was not the only item on Putin’s busy agenda Monday. Before meeting the Chinese leader, Putin made it clear Russia has agreed to an extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative for 60 days only and may pull out if its conditions aren’t met.
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting in Moscow attended by lawmakers from African countries — which have benefited from the deal to lift a Russian blockade on cargo ships carrying Ukrainian grain — Putin emphasized his nation expects easier access to markets for its own agricultural products as part of the agreement.
“Depending on that we will deal with the issue of our further participation in it,” Putin said. The Kremlin has complained that Western-imposed sanctions have made it difficult to export Russia’s grain and fertilizer.
The grain deal, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, helped bring down global food prices and likely stave off a hunger crisis after it was reached in July. It was extended for another 120 days after the initial four-month period expired in November, but Russia would only renew for half that time at Saturday’s expiration date.
A situation similar to the Russian forces’ attempted takeover of Bakhmut seems to be developing in a smaller city to its south, also in the eastern Donetsk province.
The British Defense Ministry said Russian troops have made marginal gains in Avdiivka over the last three weeks, as they try to encircle it and turn it into what Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi called “the second Bakhmut.”
The battle for Bakhmut has been one of the fiercest confrontations in the war, waged over eight months at an immense cost to both sides — especially Russia — in personnel and equipment. Both cities have been devastated and are largely devoid of residents, and the ministry pointed out the status of their defense also has similarities.
“Ukrainian forces continue organized defense,” the ministry said, “but their supply lines to the west are increasingly threatened by the Russian envelopment operation.”
The Biden administration on Monday announced an additional $350 million military aide package, the 34th “drawdown” for Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the package includes more ammunition for howitzers and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons, riverine boats and other equipment.
“We applaud the more than 50 countries that have come together to provide support for Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said in a statement.
The European Union Foreign Affairs Council signed off on plans aimed at supplying Ukraine with 1 million artillery shells by year’s end. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s plan provides $1.1 billion to encourage member nations to give artillery shells from their stocks and any orders for new rounds that they might have placed. Another $1.1 billion would fast-track new orders. He said 18 nations agreed to aggregate orders and place them with industries pledging to deliver more and faster.
“The past year has been a brutal wake-up call for Europe,” Borrell tweeted.
Contributing: The Associated Press