Fresh from brokering a major diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China’s President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow carrying his proposals for a peace plan for Ukraine. But Russia and Ukraine, both reluctant peacemakers at present, will be a tougher nut to crack -– the proposed plan apparently says nothing about a withdrawal of the former from Ukrainian territory, a prerequisite of any agreement by Kyiv to a ceasefire.
Putin said Xi’s proposals could provide the basis of settlement but only when the West was ready. Xi’s expected call today to President Volodymyr Zelensky would appear unlikely to be productive.
Ostensibly neutral – “impartial”, as Xi himself put it– the Chinese president is keen to pose as a pragmatic peacemaker. But China has abstained on UN votes criticising Russia and has echoed Russian language on the war. So far unwilling to supply arms, not least because of a fear its businesses would be hit by western sanctions, Beijing has been enthusiastically stepping in to fill the trade gap left by the west. Moscow will certainly press, probably unsuccessfully, for military support, to make up for the shortages that are undermining Russia’s war effort.
Without giving full backing to Russia, Xi is also anxious to build a political alliance against what he sees as US hegemony on the world stage. He has accused the US of pursuing a regional policy of “containment, encirclement and suppression” aimed at China, and will happily enlist Russia in a front with developing countries against the west.
But for Putin, increasingly dependent on China, strengthening economic links is just as important as military help. Western sanctions and ramped up military spending have left Moscow with a growing budget deficit. Hence the importance of discussions yesterday about the planned Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, a vital outlet for Russian gas no longer being sent to Europe. Putin hailed China as Russia’s most important economic partner – the west will watch closely as this alliance builds