Russia tightens ties with China as West offers $16bn lifeline to Kyiv
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin cemented friendship between China and Russia and jointly criticised the West, which moved to buttress Ukraine against Moscow's invasion with nearly $16 billion in financial aid and faster delivery of battle tanks.
The Chinese leader's visit to Moscow, long touted by the Kremlin as a show of support from its most powerful friend, featured plenty of demonstrative bonhomie on Tuesday. Xi and the Russian president referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation and described their countries' relations as the best they have ever been.
A joint statement included familiar accusations against the West - that the United States was undermining global stability and NATO barging into the Asia-Pacific region. The West has sought to isolate Russia over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, and Putin faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court and global sanctions against his government and economy.
Putin praised Xi for a peace plan for Ukraine that he proposed last month and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting it. But Xi, who was due to depart Moscow on Wednesday, barely mentioned the conflict, saying that China had an "impartial position" on it.
Responding to the meeting, the White House said China's position was not impartial, and urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine's sovereign territory to end the war.
SENDING MONEY, TANKS TO KYIV
In Washington, the International Monetary Fund, a UN agency over which the United States holds major control, announced that after months of negotiations it reached preliminary agreement with Kyiv on a four-year loan package of about $15.6 billion.
The money would help shore up Ukraine, which has suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure and economy during Russia's year-long invasion. The IMF said it expects Ukraine's economy to show growth in 2023 of -3% to 1%.
Separately, the United States intends to speed up delivery to Ukraine of 31 Abrams battle tanks to the autumn, Pentagon spokesperson Patrick Ryder told reporters.
According to a congressional aide briefed on the matter, this would be about a year sooner than the timeline anticipated when Washington pledged the tanks in January. Kyiv had clamoured for the vehicles as well as other sophisticated Western military hardware.
The Pentagon said a decision to send a variant of the tank that can run on diesel fuel like most of the Ukrainian fleet made faster delivery possible.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy once again implored Ukraine's allies to provide more military aid including ammunition and to do it without delay.
"One of the questions which always commands the utmost attention is the supply of ammunition, support from our partners. We expect increased supplies of exactly what we need - and we need it right now," he said in a video address on Tuesday.
European Union countries on Monday pledged to send 1 million artillery roundsover the next year to Ukraine, which has been burning through them faster than allies can supply them.
QUEUING FOR FOOD, WATER
On the ground, bursts of incoming and outgoing artillery fire could be heard in the town of Chasiv Yar just west of Bakhmut, a small eastern city that has been the focus of intense fighting for months.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Tuesday that the fiercest fighting continued to take place near Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the south.
Between apartment blocks in Chasiv Yar, mainly elderly residents queued for water and food delivered by a team from the State Emergency Service.
Oleksii Stepanov said he had been in Bakhmut until five days ago but was evacuated when his house was destroyed by a missile.
"We were in the kitchen and the missile came through the roof. The kitchen was all that was left standing," said the 54-year-old.
Moscow has launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.
Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, the front line has barely moved for four months except in Bakhmut where Russian forces made gains in January and February. Ukraine decided this month not to pull its forces out of the ruined city.
Multiple agreements crown historic Putin-Xi meeting
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese guest Xi Jinping have signed more than a dozen documents on increased cooperation in fields ranging from trade and industry to science and the military. The two leaders also touched on the prospects for peace in Ukraine.
“This is an example of how world powers, who are permanent members of the UN Security Council and have a special responsibility for maintaining stability and security on the planet, should interact,” Putin said at the ceremonial dinner following the hours-long talks at the highest level in the Kremlin.
As part of his toast, the Russian president quoted from the ‘I Ching’ (‘The Book of Changes’), to say the Russian and Chinese people have a “common soul” and can overcome any obstacle with their joint strength.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Putin said that relations between China and Russia were “at their highest point in history” and that trade and economic cooperation were the priority of both governments.
Economy and trade
China’s trade with Russia hit a record high in 2022, growing by 30% as the West tried to embargo Moscow. Bilateral trade is on pace to hit over $200 billion this year – though two thirds of it have been denominated in yuans and rubles, as both countries move away from the dollar.
Putin has endorsed the use of yuan in trade settlements with other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
** Putin, Xi Jinping discussed China’s peace plan for Ukraine — Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed China’s plan for the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine when they met one-on-one on Monday, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
"That they have discussed it is obvious because they said they would," the spokesman said.
When asked if there’s any progress with that issue, Peskov said, "I won’t make any assessments. Let’s wait for the statements [by the leaders] for the news media [following the talks on Tuesday]."
The spokesman didn’t say if the issues of natural gas contracts, military-technical cooperation and others had been brought up at the meeting.
"The leaders will talk about this when they make their statements," Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman referred to the Defense Ministry the question whether the defense ministers of Russia and China will hold a separate meeting during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia.
"That’s something you need to ask the Russian Defense Ministry, as I’m not aware of this. I can only speak about the presidential agenda," he said.
The Chinese president is paying a state visit to Russia on March 20-22. On Monday he held a one-on-one meeting with Putin that lasted about 4 1/2 hours. Talks are scheduled to continue in the Kremlin after 3 pm on Tuesday. The leaders are expected to make statements for the press afterward.
China’s peace plan
The Chinese Foreign Ministry in February published a document laying out its position on a political settlement of the crisis in Ukraine. It includes 12 points, including calls for a ceasefire, respect for the legitimate security interests of all countries, the settlement of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the exchange of prisoners of war between Moscow and Kiev, and the rejection of unilateral sanctions without an authorization by the UN Security Council. The document described the talks as "the only way to resolve the crisis in Ukraine" and called on all sides to support Moscow and Kiev in "moving toward each other" and promptly resuming a direct dialogue. It urged the global community to create conditions and provide a platform for the resumption of talks.