On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The visit was significant as it marked the first time a national leader had shaken Putin’s hand since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia since its invasion.
The timing of Xi’s visit is also noteworthy, coming just weeks after he secured an unprecedented third term as president of China. Putin is hoping to gain support from China against the Western pressure he faces, while Xi is expected to press Beijing’s role as a potential peacemaker in the Ukraine conflict.
China has released a 12-point proposal to solve the Ukraine crisis, which includes suggestions such as “promoting dialogue and negotiations, respecting the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and urging all parties to exercise restraint.” While China has maintained that it has no plans to arm Russia, it has strengthened its ties with Moscow, particularly in the energy sector.
According to reporters, “Western sanctions on Russian energy mean Beijing has saved billions of dollars” through increased imports of Russian coal, gas, and oil. China’s proposal does not contain any concrete solutions to the year-long war, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, destroyed cities, and forced millions to flee.
The US has criticized China for not condemning Russia’s actions and for giving it an economic lifeline. However, Putin has welcomed China’s offer to mediate, and the Kremlin said he would provide Xi with detailed “clarifications” of Russia’s position, without elaborating.
In addition to discussions on the Ukraine crisis, Putin and Xi are expected to deepen cooperation in space exploration, new technologies, and nuclear power reactors. Russia has also been helping to build nuclear reactors in China, while growing oil and coal deliveries to China have continued.
Despite the growing cooperation between Russia and China, Western pressure on Russia has increased. In response, Putin’s administration has reportedly told officials to stop using Apple iPhones due to concerns that the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies. This move was reported by the Kommersant daily newspaper on Monday.
Meanwhile, justice ministers from around the world met in London on Monday to discuss support for the ICC. Several European Union countries also signed an agreement in Brussels to buy 155 mm artillery shells for Ukraine, with the first joint orders expected at the end of May.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has resulted in fierce fighting in the eastern town of Bakhmut, with both sides launching counter offensives. Ukrainian forces have held out in Bakhmut since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
According to Ukraine’s military, defenders in Bakhmut, Lyman, Ivanivske, Bohdanivka, and Hryhorivka – all towns in the Donetsk region – had repelled 69 Russian attacks in the past day. The military also noted that British intelligence had reported Ukrainian supply lines west of Bakhmut and west of the town of Avdiivka, further south, were under pressure.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which is spearheading the assault on Bakhmut, has suffered heavy losses. The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced plans to recruit 30,000 new fighters by mid-May. In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a pardon if they survived six months.