MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader President Xi Jinping will sign accords ushering in a “new era” of ties in Moscow next week, the Kremlin said on Friday.

Xi will be in Russia from Monday to Wednesday, Beijing and Moscow announced, for talks with his strategic ally just over a year into Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov said Putin and Xi would sign a key declaration “on strengthening [the two countries’] comprehensive partnership and strategic relations entering a new era.”

China’s foreign ministry called Xi’s trip “a visit for peace” that aimed to “practise true multilateralism... improve global governance and make contributions to the development and progress of the world”.

China, Ukraine foreign ministers hold telephone talks; Slovakia offers 13 planes to Kyiv

The two leaders would exchange views on relations between their countries, and major international and regional issues, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

“The world has entered a new period of turmoil,” he said.

“China will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks,” he added.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies, Ushakov said the Kremlin “highly valued” Beijing’s “restrained and considered position” on the conflict.

Dialogue and respect

Xi began a third five-year term as president this month in a break with longstanding precedent. China, a major Russian ally, has sought to position itself as a neutral party, urging Moscow and Kyiv to resolve it through negotiations.

In a 12-point position paper on the conflict last month, China called for dialogue and respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty.

But Western leaders have repeatedly criticised Beijing for failing to condemn Russia’s offensive, accusing it of providing Moscow with diplomatic cover for its assault.

The United States has accused China of mulling arms shipments to support Russia’s campaign — claims Beijing has strongly denied.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in February he was planning to meet Xi after Beijing called for talks. The Chinese foreign ministry did not confirm on Friday whether he planned to do so.

The two nations’ foreign ministers held a telephone call on Thursday, the first since China’s Qin Gang took office.

China the peacemaker

Qin urged Kyiv and Moscow to restart peace talks “as soon as possible”, adding that “China is concerned that the crisis could escalate and get out of control”.

His Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba said the call included a discussion of “the significance of the principle of territorial integrity”, without giving details.

Formerly socialist allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have deepened economic, military and political cooperation recently as part of their “no limits” partnership.

Xi last visited Russia in 2019, while Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing last year and the two leaders also met at a regional security gathering in Uzbekistan in September.

Xi also helped spur a China-mediated deal to restore ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia last week.

“Whether [China] is actually stepping up its efforts to play peacemaker in a meaningful way will depend on the substance of what it proposes during meetings with leaders from Ukraine and Russia,” said Ja-Ian Chong, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

The announcement of Xi’s visit came after Poland this week said Warsaw would deliver an initial batch of four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, in what would be the first such shipment by a NATO member.

Fighter jets

Slovakia followed up Friday with an offer of 13 MiG-29 warplanes for Kyiv, which has urged allies to send fighter jets ahead of an expected uptick spring offensive.

“We’re giving these MiGs to Ukraine so that it can protect civilians against the many bombs that fall on their houses and which are the reason why people are dying in Ukraine,” said Prime Minister Eduard Heger.

He told reporters that Bratislava would also deliver a Kub air defence system to Ukraine.

The batch will include 10 operational jets and an additional three that have not been in use since 2008.

“Our steps are fully coordinated with Poland and Ukraine,” Heger said, adding that his government “stands on the right side of history”.The Kremlin said the weapons would have no impact on the battlefield. “All this equipment will be destroyed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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