The presence in Moscow of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, reawakens hopes that Russia and Ukraine can resume the peace contacts abandoned almost a year ago. The Eastern leader arrived yesterday in the Russian capital to meet with the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, and he brings the peace plan that his country announced in February. Beijing wants to play an important mediating role, a possibility welcomed by Russia but viewed with skepticism by Western countries, given its good relations with Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed interest in speaking with the Chinese leader, which could take place after this trip.
Beijing assured last week that this visit is a trip of "peace and friendship", in which it will try to strengthen the relationship with Moscow. Russia is trying to present the meeting between the two presidents as evidence that it has powerful support against a West that it claims is hostile and trying to destroy Russia.
Xi Jinping's trip to Moscow, his first trip abroad since being elected to a third term as China's president, will serve to strengthen the friendship and cooperation between the two countries, which are based on the "concept of eternal friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation", as he wrote in an article published yesterday by the Russian state newspaper Rossiskaia Gazeta.
During Putin's visit to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, weeks before Russian troops entered Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing proclaimed their "boundless" friendship.
But Xi also took the 12-point Chinese proposal he made public last month, when it was the first anniversary of the armed conflict, under his arm in Moscow.
"The document serves as a constructive factor to neutralize the consequences of the crisis and promote a political solution," Xi told Rossískaia Gazet a. He also says Beijing is making "active efforts" to contribute to peace in Ukraine. And he was convinced that he will find a "rational way out of the crisis and a path towards solid peace and global security".
China has not explicitly supported Russia in its intervention in Ukraine, but it has opposed the sanctions against Moscow, since "they do not solve the problems".
Vladimir Putin received his guest yesterday at the Kremlin, where they held an informal meeting, with some preambles broadcast by Russian television. "We are always open to a negotiation process. We will discuss all these issues, of course, including their initiatives, which we treat with respect," Putin said.
However, Russia maintains its maximalist positions. Whether there are negotiations, Putin stressed, depends on the willingness of the Ukrainian Government to accept the new "realities".
This position is not new and Moscow has repeated it in recent months every time the possibility of returning to a dialogue table like the one proposed by Turkey last year has been put on the table. Moscow basically wants Kyiv to agree to lose Donbass (Luhansk and Donetsk, in the east) plus the southern provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhia.
In September 2022, Putin proclaimed the annexation of these territories, despite the fact that Russian troops do not fully control them. The pro-Russian authorities in these regions organized referendums that Kyiv and its Western partners described as a "sham". And, of course, the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, not to mention.
After the face-to-face meeting, the two leaders continued their meeting in a familiar way, over a dinner. Diplomacy and geopolitics were accompanied by sturgeon soup and roast venison, among other Russian delicacies with which Putin complimented Xi, as journalist Pável Zarubin posted on Telegram.
Positions on a diplomatic end to the current conflict remain distant and, for the time being, appear immovable.
If Russia talks about "new realities", Ukraine, which has politely followed the Chinese peace plan, asked Beijing yesterday to "use its influence to force Moscow to end its war of aggression", say the spokesman of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oleg Nikolenko, quoted by the Ukrainian agency Unián. Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke by phone with his Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, and stressed that territorial restoration of Ukraine must be at the center of diplomatic efforts.
Like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin also wrote an article before the meeting that appeared in the official Chinese newspaper People's Daily. He thanked "China's balanced approach to the Ukrainian issue" and was satisfied by Beijing's willingness to "play a constructive role" in this crisis.
It is true that only the preambles of the contacts in Moscow were seen yesterday. Xi Jinping's visit continues today, Tuesday, with meetings between the two delegations and a final press conference by the leaders. The Chinese leader will leave the Russian capital on Wednesday.
It will be necessary to watch for any signs that the kind words have succeeded in moving the positions of both Moscow and Kyiv.
Then there will be Chinese contacts with Ukraine. Qin told Kuleba last week that China will try to promote "a cessation of hostilities, the easing of the crisis and the restoration of peace between Ukraine and Russia."
The Government of Ukraine later stated that it is preparing the video conference that, according to various media, Zelensky could hold with Xi Jinping after the Chinese leader concludes his visit to Moscow.