(CNN) Xi Jinping Vladimir Putin met at the start of a three-day visit to Russia — his first since Moscow launched it without prompting. Invasion of Ukraine Last year — the Chinese leader sought to portray himself as a peace broker, despite deep suspicions in Kiev and the West.
Putin welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on Monday, days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted the Russian president. Committing war crimes Ukraine issued a warrant for his arrest.
Ukraine is expected to be a major discussion point during Xi’s visit. Ingrained conflict It has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered a massive humanitarian crisis.
“Over the past few years, China has made a huge leap forward,” Putin told Xi, sitting side by side with him in the Kremlin on Monday afternoon. “All over the world, it arouses curiosity, and unfortunately even envy.”
China has billed the visit as a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace” amid Beijing’s push to be a key supporter of resolving the conflict. But Xi’s visit could be seen in some Western capitals as a ringing endorsement by the Russian leader in the face of broad international condemnation of his war.
During the publicized portion of Monday’s meeting, Putin once again told Xi that he was “always open to the negotiation process” despite his repeated refusal to engage with Kyiv on withdrawal from Ukrainian land.
“We have carefully studied your proposals for resolving the acute crisis in Ukraine,” Putin told Xi.
“Of course, we will have an opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that you are based on the principles of justice and commitment to the fundamental points of international law,” Putin said. “We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiative.”
Western leaders have expressed doubts about China’s potential role as a peacemaker and its neutrality. Instead, the US and its allies have warned China since last month Sending assisted dying is considered To Russia for its war effort, Beijing refused.
Kyiv is also expected to be watching the proceedings closely, and on Monday reiterated that any plan for peace must begin with a Russian withdrawal from its territory.
“We expect Beijing to use its influence in Moscow to end the war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told CNN on Monday.
“Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be at the center of every diplomatic effort,” he said. “We are ready to engage in close dialogue with China to restore peace in Ukraine in accordance with the UN Charter and the recent UNGA resolution on the matter.”
On top of the table
Xi’s visit comes days after the ICC made Putin a wanted person in the 123 countries that recognize the court, deepening the Russian leader’s isolation from the West as he continues a bloody and costly war in Ukraine.
The Chinese leader was expected to meet Putin on Monday afternoon local time. He was greeted upon his arrival at Vnukovo Airport near Moscow by Dmitry Chernyshenko, one of Russia’s 10 deputy prime ministers, and a Russian military band, but Putin did not attend the meet-and-greet.
Russian media later showed Xi’s motorcade driving through the city ahead of three days of meetings in which he is expected to present a framework for ending the conflict that has received a lukewarm reception from the West.
China has recently sought to rehabilitate its image, portraying itself as a proponent of peace and defending its relationship with Russia as good for global stability. Last month, Beijing issued a Ambiguously worded position paper A “political solution” to the conflict in Ukraine.
Following the announcement of Xi’s visit to Moscow on Friday, the White House expressed concern about possible plans by China that are “one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective.”
For example, a proposal for a ceasefire — which China has repeatedly called for — would give Russia a way to regroup before launching retaliation, said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
The visit is expected to provide a platform for both countries to further deepen their close strategic alignment, which includes diplomatic coordination, joint military exercises and robust trade.
In a statement issued after Xi landed on Monday, the Chinese leader said: “In the face of a turbulent and changing world, China is ready to continue working with Russia to firmly safeguard the international order.”
Both Putin and Xi said in separate letters to each other published in state-run media ahead of the visit that their meeting would bring “new impetus” to their bilateral relationship.
Both also used the letters to denounce “hegemony” — a reference to their shared intention to push back against what they see as a US-led world order.
Xi should tread carefully during his trip to Moscow. What is at stake for the Chinese leader is whether he can strengthen ties with an ally that China sees as crucial to countering US hegemony without alienating Europe, which is increasingly wary of Sino-Russian relations.
Putin launched his invasion days after he and Xi announced it “No Limits” Partnership Last February.
Since then, China has demanded neutrality but has supported Kremlin rhetoric that blames NATO for the conflict, refuses to condemn the invasion and continues to financially support Moscow. Purchases will increase significantly Russian fuel.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly expressed interest in discussing the conflict with Xi in the past, although contact between the two countries has not reached higher than Ukraine’s ministerial level since the war began.
Ukrainian, Chinese and US officials all declined to confirm a possible virtual meeting between Zelensky and Xi last week, following a Wall Street Journal report that the two planned to speak for the first time since Xi’s then-possible trip to Moscow.
By contrast, this week’s state visit marks the 40th meeting between Putin and Xi since the Chinese leader took office in 2012.
The Personal chemistry The spat between the two authoritarian leaders is widely seen as a key driver of tightening ties between the countries in recent years — and will be closely examined during the visit.
Past meetings between the leaders, including photographs, have fully showcased that rapport Putin presented Xi with ice cream On his 66th birthday during a 2019 meeting in Tajikistan, and on the sidelines of a forum in Vladivostok in 2018, the two cooked Russian pancakes together.
The two last met in person during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in September Ji’s first trip abroad Almost three consecutive years without travel during the pandemic.
Putin, who referred to Xi as his “good old friend” in a letter published on Chinese state media on Monday, is expected to hold the meeting domestically as proof that Russia is not isolated on the world stage.
CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed reporting