(Reuters) – China’s top diplomat Wang Yi held talks with President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials in Moscow this week amid speculation that the two sides would discuss a Chinese plan to bring about peace in Ukraine after almost a year of war.
Moscow has denied that Wang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed a specific proposal but both sides said they touched on political ways to end the conflict, with Russia welcoming what it called China’s “balanced position”.
Beijing has accused the United States and the West of fanning the flames of conflict in Ukraine, but it has refused to explicitly endorse Russia’s invasion.
WHAT IS CHINA’S PEACE PROPOSAL?
China issued its position on how to settle the Ukraine conflict through political means in a paper, which was published today on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s “special military operation”.
SEE FULL DOCUMENT HERE: China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis
Wang said at last week’s Munich Security Conference that the document would reference principles from the United Nations’ founding charter and take into account territorial integrity, sovereignty and security concerns.
“I suggest that everybody starts to think calmly, especially friends in Europe, about what kind of efforts we can make to stop this war,” Wang said on Saturday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion, although analysts have cast doubt on whether Beijing’s efforts to act as peacemaker will go beyond rhetoric.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday warned China against supplying weapons to Russia. “We haven’t seen any supplies of lethal aid from China to Russia, but we have seen signs that they are considering and may be planning for that,” he told Reuters.
WHAT HAS UKRAINE SAID?
Ukraine said it was looking forward to hearing China’s proposal but that it would need to examine it closely before reaching any conclusions, adding that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had his own plan for peace.
“(Wang Yi) shared with me key elements of the Chinese peace plan,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday.
“Once we receive the paper we will thoroughly examine it and come with our own conclusions,” he said.
Zelenskiy last year proposed his own 10-point peace plan, which calls on Russia to withdraw all its troops from Ukraine and to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Russia still controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine, despite losing swathes of land in major battlefield setbacks last year.
A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday any plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine must involve the withdrawal of Russian troops to Ukraine’s 1991 borders.
Political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak made his remarks after China presented a 12-point plan for a ceasefire in Ukraine. He was referring to Ukraine’s borders at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
“Any ‘peace plan’ with ceasefire only and, as a result, a new delimitation line and continued occupation of Ukrainian territory isn’t about peace, but about freezing the war, a Ukrainian defeat, (and the) next stages of Russia’s genocide,” he wrote on Twitter. “Ukraine’s position is known – the withdrawal of Russian troops to the borders of 1991.”
WHAT HAS RUSSIA SAID?
Russia said on Wednesday that it welcomed China taking a more active role in efforts to resolve the conflict.
“When it comes to addressing hot international issues, we and China share much of the same vision,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Weeks before the invasion, Putin and Xi agreed to a “no limits” partnership, as the two countries seek to counter-balance what they see as attempts by the United States to dominate global affairs.
Meeting Putin on Wednesday, Wang said China was willing to play a “constructive role” to end the Ukraine conflict.
“The Chinese side will, as in the past, firmly adhere to an objective and impartial position and play a constructive role in the political settlement of the crisis,” Wang was quoted in Russian state media as saying.
Putin said Russia’s relations with China were “developing” and said Xi would visit Moscow.
WHAT HAS THE WEST SAID?
Beijing’s attempts to reach a peace deal and Wang’s visit to Moscow have been met with a mixed reaction in the West, which believes Russia’s increasing reliance on China make it one of the few countries able to truly influence Moscow.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said China had an obligation to use that influence to seek peace in Ukraine.
“China, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is obligated to use its influence to secure world peace,” said Baerbock, who also met Wang at last week’s security conference.
The United States was sceptical, warning that Wang’s visit to Russia on the eve of the war’s first anniversary was more evidence of Beijing’s growing alignment with Moscow.
“China is trying to have it both ways,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
“China is trying to broadcast and disguise itself in this veneer of neutrality, even as it deepens its engagement with Russia in key ways – politically, diplomatically, economically, and potentially in the security realm as well,” he said.
Xi has stood by Putin during the conflict in Ukraine, resisting Western pressure to isolate Moscow.
Trade between the two countries has soared since the invasion, and China is Russia’s biggest buyer of oil, a key source of revenue for Moscow.