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Xi could visit Putin, speak to Zelenskiy ‘next week’

Media reports suggest Chinese President Xi Jinping may visit Russia and speak with the Ukrainian president.

March 14, 2023
14 March 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping could wade deeper than before into Ukraine diplomacy as soon as next week, staging both his first trip to Russia and his first talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy since the Russian invasion.

Several sources familiar with the plans told Reuters Xi could visit Moscow next week, an earlier than expected trip in response to a long-standing invitation from President Vladimir Putin. 

His plans to also hold a video conference with Zelenskiy were reported by the Wall Street Journal, citing sources, which Reuters was not immediately able to confirm independently.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The Kremlin said it had nothing to announce yet. 

Ukraine’s president’s office did not immediately respond.

The sources who told Reuters of the plan for Xi to visit Moscow declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the issue.

“As a rule, announcements of official foreign visits are co-ordinated synchronously by mutual agreement of the parties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. 

“When there is such readiness, we will let you know.”

A visit by Xi to Russia would be a major event for Putin, who portrays the war in Ukraine as a conflict with the combined might of the US and its European allies and has frequently spoken of his plans to host Xi in coming months. 

Russia relies on China to buy oil and gas it can no longer sell in Europe.

But if Xi’s visit coincides with a video meeting with Zelenskiy, that could be an even bigger coup for Ukraine, who wants China to remain neutral rather than firm up their support for Russia. 

Zelenskiy has called on Xi to speak to him.

China has declined to ascribe blame for the war while opposing sanctions against Russia. 

It unveiled a proposal in February for a peace plan, met with scepticism in the US but praised in Russia and cautiously welcomed by Zelenskiy.

The US has said repeatedly since last month that it believes China is considering arming Russia, which China denies. 

Zelenskiy has said doing so would invite World War III but also that he believed China was aware of such risks, implying that he doubted it was likely.

China and Russia struck a “no limits” partnership in February of 2022, weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, and the two sides have repeatedly reaffirmed the strength of their ties in public. 

China’s top diplomat visited Moscow in February during the week of the war’s first anniversary, when US President Joe Biden travelled to Kyiv.

On the ground, both sides described relentless fighting in Bakhmut, a small ruined city in eastern Ukraine that has become the main focus of a Russian winter campaign involving hundreds of thousands of freshly conscripted reservists and mercenaries.

Ukraine announced last week that it had decided to defend Bakhmut rather than withdraw. 

Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured the eastern part of the city but have so far failed to encircle it.

“All enemy attempts to capture the town are repelled by artillery, tanks, and other firepower,” Ukraine’s Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of ground forces who has vowed not to withdraw, was quoted as saying by Ukraine’s Media Military Centre.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Sunday the situation was “tough, very tough”.

“The closer we are to the centre of the city, the harder the fighting… The Ukrainians throw in endless reserves. But we are advancing and we will be advancing,” Prigozhin said in comments released by his press service.

He also said Russian soldiers were providing his troops with truckloads of ammunition.

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