June 1, 2023

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping discussed Beijing’s proposal for a ceasefire in Ukraine at talks in Moscow, demonstrating a warm friendship based on mutual rivalry with the West.

Xi’s visit is a boost for Moscow, which is struggling to gain a foothold in its decades-long war over Ukraine. Washington has criticized him for “diplomatic cover” for Putin and a war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

While China has been keen to act as a potential peacekeeper in the conflict, the visit underscored the even closer relationship between Moscow and Beijing.

On Monday, the two men talked for more than four hours and enjoyed a gala dinner in the Kremlin, warmly praising each other as “dear friends,” Russian media reported.

In contrast, Xi can only talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone, if at all.

In a surprise visit that clearly coincided with Xi’s Moscow talks, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday to express solidarity and support for Ukraine.

In other developments, Ukraine said an explosion at Dzhankoy on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula destroyed Russian cruise missiles intended for use by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

On the battlefields in eastern Ukraine, Russia continued its air raids, as well as rocket and missile strikes over a wide area, according to the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine said Russia’s main goal was to reach the borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the Donbas, large areas of which are already under Russian control.

Russian troops again attacked the city of Bakhmut – the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of the war – and other targets, but were repulsed, the report said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Xi discussed on Monday a Chinese proposal calling for de-escalation and possible peace in Ukraine.

“There was a very detailed exchange of views, a serious conversation,” he said.

He declined to give details but said that after the two leaders met on the second day of talks, a joint statement would be made.

The Chinese document lays out some general principles in the form of a 12-point plan, but does not provide details on how to end the 13-month-old war.

The proposal was dismissed in the West as a plot to buy time for Putin to regroup his forces and consolidate his hold on the occupied lands.

Ukrainian and Western officials fear that any ceasefire will simply freeze the front lines, giving Russia an edge after a series of setbacks it launched last February.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Xi’s visit showed that “China does not feel compelled to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine.”

“Instead of even condemning them, he would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit these heinous crimes,” Blinken said.

Xi also invited Putin to visit China and called for regular meetings between his prime ministers, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.

China refrains from condemning Russia and does not call Moscow’s meddling in its neighbor’s affairs an “invasion.” He also criticized Western sanctions against Russia.

Foreign policy analysts say that while Putin is counting on Xi’s strong support on the Ukraine issue, they doubt that his visit to Moscow will result in any military support.

Washington has said in recent weeks that it fears China might arm Russia, but Beijing has been denied that plan.
Kiev, which says the war cannot end until Russia withdraws its troops, is being cautious about China, cautiously welcoming Beijing’s peace proposal, which was announced last month. It was unclear if Xi would speak to the Ukrainian Zelensky, or when.

“We are waiting for confirmation,” Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. This would be an important step. They have something to say to each other.”

But the visit of the Japanese Kishida to Kyiv at the same time that Xi was in Moscow was a signal of the determination of the West and its allies to support Ukraine.

Kishida arrived in Kyiv by train from Poland and will convey “his respect for the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people who stood up to defend their homeland,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In the town of Chasov Yar, west of Bakhmut, and the nearby village of Kalinovka in eastern Ukraine, heavy artillery fire and shells were fired from nearby Ukrainian positions.

Mostly elderly residents stood between the apartment buildings in Chasovoy Yar for water and food delivered by the State Emergency Service brigade.

Alexei Stepanov, speaking in Konstantinovka, said he was in Bakhmut five days ago, but was evacuated when his house was destroyed by a rocket.

We were in the kitchen and the shell went through the roof. The kitchen is all that’s left,” said the 54-year-old. He said that when he left, there was constant mortar fire in the city.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the explosion in the town of Dzhankoy in Crimea destroyed Russian Kalibr-KN cruise missiles being transported by rail.

The ministry said in a statement that the missiles, designed to be launched from surface ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, have a range of more than 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) on land and 375 kilometers at sea. He did not take responsibility for the attack.

Russian officials in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014, said the blast was caused by drones filled with shrapnel and explosives that were aimed at civilian targets. One person was injured.

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