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Chinese Xi and Ukrainian Zelensky discuss


Two months after publishing a vague plan to end the war in Ukraine, the Chinese leader, a close ally of Vladimir V. Putin, acceded to repeated requests from the Ukrainian president on Wednesday to speak.

The hour-long phone conversation between Chinese Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was the first known contact between the two leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

China’s official account of the discussion is notable for the omission of two words: “Russia” and “war.” He rather evokes the need for a “political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis” and warns against the danger of a nuclear escalation.

For his part, Mr Zelensky said the two leaders “had a long and meaningful phone call”.

In recent months, Xi has tried to restore his image as a global statesman by helping restore diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and rolling out the red carpet in Beijing to visit leaders. like French President Emmanuel Macron.

US officials and their allies questioned whether Mr Xi had the capacity to help mediate peace in Ukraine – or even the intention to do so, given his close ties to the Kremlin – but in February , China released a 12-point plan laying out a path to end the war.

Russia offered a low-key response to the phone call on Wednesday through its foreign ministry.

“We note that the Chinese side is ready to make efforts to work on a negotiation process,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. She added, “Any peace initiative is unlikely to be adequately received by puppets controlled by Washington.”

The Biden administration welcomed the call as “a good thing.” But whether this “will lead to some kind of meaningful peace movement, plan or proposal – I just don’t think we know at this time,” National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby, according to Reuters. .

As the West moved to isolate Moscow from the world in punishment for the February 2022 invasion, Russian leaders have worked to forge new relationships with other countries and strengthen existing alliances.

China has become particularly close to Russia and shares the Kremlin’s goal of disrupting a world order dominated by the United States and its allies. US officials have said they believe Beijing has seriously considered sending military aid to Moscow for its war.

The Chinese leader has spoken to or met with Putin several times, including during a trip to Moscow on March 20, about a month after China released its proposals for Ukraine, apparently positioning itself as a potential mediator. The United States and its Western allies have largely rejected the plan.

But even as Mr. Xi remained in close contact with Mr. Putin, and even after China released what it presented as a peace plan, Chinese officials dodged questions about whether Mr. Xi would speak. with the leader of the country his ally had invaded. .

Ukraine, keen to maintain good relations with Beijing, bit its tongue as the Chinese government ostensibly refrained from joining countries that condemned the invasion.

Ukraine and China have long had good relations and, indeed, before the war, these ties were growing stronger. In 2019, China was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner and the top importer of barley and iron ore, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. Ukraine was also China’s largest supplier of corn and its second largest arms supplier. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was an abandoned Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine that the Chinese Navy refurbished.

The last known contact between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky was in January 2022, just weeks before the invasion, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

But after the invasion, China’s official media embraced many of the Kremlin’s talking points and disinformation about the invasion, blaming NATO for fomenting the conflict and refusing to call it an invasion.

On Wednesday, the Chinese took pains to portray Ukraine as an ally.

“President Xi noted that China-Ukraine relations, after 31 years of development, have reached a level of strategic partnership, boosting the development and revitalization of the two countries,” said a reading of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussion. foreign.

Mr Zelensky said on Twitter that the call would help “give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations”.

The Chinese said Mr Xi had also addressed growing concerns over a possible nuclear confrontation – without mentioning that the only party to the war with nuclear weapons is Russia, or that Mr Putin and his officials themselves have mentioned. repeatedly the possibility of a nuclear confrontation. during the war.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable path,” the Chinese foreign ministry said. “There are no winners in nuclear wars. On the nuclear issue, all parties involved must maintain calm and restraint, act genuinely in the interest of their own future and that of humanity. , and manage the crisis together.

Mr Xi reiterated points Beijing had made in the past, saying China’s “central position” was to “promote peace and talks”. Xi also said “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” was the “political basis of China-Ukraine relations”.

In their own reading of the discussion, the Ukrainians said Mr Zelensky told the Chinese leader that “no one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people” – but that it must be “just and lasting”.

“There can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises,” Zelensky said. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored within the 1991 borders.”

The call came days after China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, caused a diplomatic storm in Europe after he questioned the sovereignty of nations formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union – such as the Ukraine – in a television interview. Analysts said the call may have been a response to the flap, which has hurt China’s efforts to strengthen ties with Europe as its relationship with the United States deteriorates.

“Xi’s strategy is to weaken the transatlantic alliance,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Russia Europe Asia Center for Studies in Brussels. “It was really important for Xi to fix it and fix it quickly.”

The talks between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky took place as Russian and Ukrainian forces continued to fight.

After a winter lull in military activity, Russian soldiers have recently begun to step up their attacks in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, both against military positions in fields and forests and against towns and villages, Ukrainian officials said. . They use a range of ordinances, from artillery shells and rockets to Iranian-made explosive drones, the Ukrainians say.

On Wednesday, at least five explosions rocked the industrial city of Zaporizhzhia amid the almost constant cry of anti-aircraft alarms.

In Washington, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, the commander-in-chief of US forces in Europe, said Wednesday that almost all of the combat vehicles that Ukraine’s western allies had promised to deliver in time for a planned counter-offensive in the spring has arrived.

“I’m very confident that we’ve delivered the hardware they need,” he said, “and we’ll continue a pipeline to support their operations as well.”

The economic struggle between Russia and the West is also intensifying, with Moscow nationalizing the local subsidiaries of two major European energy companies and leaving the door open for further takeovers of Western assets.

Mr Putin authorized the government to take control of local subsidiaries of Germany’s Uniper and Finland’s Fortum in a decree signed on Tuesday, a move that could hasten the exit of remaining Western companies from the country which began after the invasion l ‘last year.

In the executive order, Mr Putin justified the nationalization by saying it came in response to “hostile actions taken by the United States and allied foreign nations that violate international law”.

The report was provided by Michael Schwirtz, Eric Schmitt And Anatoly Kurmanayev.

nytimes Gt

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