Chris Lange, FISM News
Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow this morning, kicking off a scheduled two-day meeting with Vladimir Putin in a timely political boost for the Russian president.
The trip comes two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges. U.S. officials will be watching closely for signs that China is moving forward with suspected plans to provide Russia with lethal aid in its war on Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin will provide his Chinese counterpart with detailed “clarifications” on Russia’s objectives in the Ukraine conflict, Reuters reported. Peskov told journalists that the two leaders would also discuss Beijing’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, which the West has widely panned as vague and “unserious.”
“One way or another, the topics that figured in this plan will inevitably be touched upon during the exchange of views on Ukraine” between Putin and Xi, Peskov said. “But here, of course, exhaustive clarifications will be given by President Putin, so that President Xi can get a first-hand view of the current moment from the Russian side.”
The two communist leaders will engage in “informal” discussions today, followed by dinner. Formal talks are scheduled for Tuesday.
CHINA AS INTERMEDIARY?
Peskov declined to provide a direct answer to a reporter’s question on whether China could serve as an intermediary between Moscow and Washington.
“For the time being, we see a continuing line on preventing any slowdown in hostilities. Washington, the State Department and the U.S. National Security Council are talking about this openly and officially,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly accused the U.S. and other Western allies of providing weapons to Kyiv as part of an overall plot to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Moscow.
“The United States is sticking to its position, which is aimed at further provoking the conflict, preventing any decrease in the intensity of hostilities and pumping weapons into Ukraine,” Peskov said.
The basis of the burgeoning relationship between Putin and Xi is one of practicality and mutual animosity toward the U.S.
China wants access to Russian natural resources and territory to develop its economy. Russia, meanwhile, desperately needs new markets, Chinese investments, and technology for its survival amid punishing Western sanctions over the war. Beyond the practical elements of the “no-limits” partnership between the two countries, Moscow and Beijing have adopted increasingly hostile positions against the U.S. over Washington’s perceived interference in Putin’s aspirations in Ukraine and Xi’s in Taiwan.
DEFIANT PUTIN VISITS MARIUPOL, CRIMEA
Ahead of Xi’s visit, Putin paid a visit to the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in a show of defiance following the ICC’s announced arrest warrant. The stop marked the Kremlin leader’s first visit to Ukrainian territory that Moscow annexed in September. Putin reportedly conversed with locals during the previously unannounced Saturday morning visit, The Associated Press reported.
Mariupol became a symbol of fierce Ukrainian resistance early in the war. It was there that a rugged band of Ukrainian fighters of the Azov regiment held out in a local steel mill for nearly three months until Moscow’s forces finally seized it. The men, many of whom were grievously injured, were eventually taken hostage. The survivors were subsequently released in a prisoner swap with Russia.
Putin also visited Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, late on Saturday to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, according to a Kremlin statement. There the Russian leader visited an art school and a children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.
The majority of the world denounced Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea as an illegal land grab. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has demanded that Russia vacate the peninsula and all other territories it has occupied since last year.
For his part, however, Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing an inch of the Kremlin’s gains. Instead, he stressed Friday the importance of holding Crimea.
“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”
RUSSIAN FORCES ADVANCE IN DONBAS
Russian forces have slowly advanced around the Ukrainian-controlled Donbas town of Avdiivka over the past three weeks, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense noted Monday in its daily assessment of the war. Avdiivka is located immediately north of Donetsk city.
The bulk of the Russian operation has been carried out by the 1st Army Corps of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who are locals and are likely to be familiar with the terrain, per the report.
Since 2014, Avdiivka has been at the center of the Donbas conflict. Today, the city is largely destroyed.
As the fight rages on, it’s likely that the vast Avdiivka Coke Plant complex will be seen as particularly defendable key terrain, according to the Ministry.
Tactical maneuvers in the region are similar to those used in the larger city of Bakhmut, further north.
“Ukrainian forces continue organized defense, but their supply lines to the west are increasingly threatened by the Russian envelopment operation,” the Ministry said.