China’s President Xi Jinping visited Kremlin on Monday for talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin; following a dinner the two leaders praised each other as “dear friend”. Putin and Xi held informal talks for nearly 4-1/2 hours on Monday, and they had more official talks scheduled for Tuesday. Putin has been pushing for a visit from Xi for months, and it is believed that the arrival of the Chinese leader at this juncture indicates Beijing is now providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover.” The timing of the Chinese leader’s visit – just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine, has raised concerns in the West. Speaking in a briefing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the issue: “That President Xi is traveling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine…Instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those grave crimes.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is visiting Ukaine to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy; Kyiv has cautiously welcomed a “peace proposal” released last month by Beijing but has also warned that China tarnishing Russia would lead to World War III. Meanwhile, several European Union countries have agreed to jointly buy 1 million rounds of 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine.
Putin has launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited from jails, the worst fighting continuing in Bakhmut. The conflict between the two nations has caused millions of people to flee, while over tens of thousands of civilians have lost their lives. Moscow has not scored a major victory in Ukraine since August.
Foreign policy analysts have opined that although Putin may be looking for strong support over Ukraine from Xi Jinping, it’s unlikely that the visit would result in any military backing. “China appears to be more interested in acting as a mediator for peace initiatives with regard to Ukraine than increasing support for the Russian invasion,” Robert Murrett, deputy director of the Institute for Security Policy, and Law at Syracuse University said. Yu Jie, senior research fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, London, also suggested that Xi Jinping’s entourage lacks active members from the People’s Liberation Army, which could be an implied message that Beijing is unlikely to offer any direct military support to Moscow.
The US has announced its latest military aid package, worth $350m, including additional ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzers and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The package will also include HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons, and river boats.