China’s Xi to meet Putin as Beijing seeks bolder global role
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on Feb. 4, 2022. China says President Xi will visit Russia from Monday, March 20, to Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in an apparent show of support for Russian President Putin amid sharpening east-west tensions over the conflict in Ukraine. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
By Karl Ritter in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Moscow next week, a major boost for Russian President Vladimir Putin amid sharpening East-West tensions over the war in Ukraine and the latest sign of Beijing’s emboldened diplomatic ambitions.
Western leaders have tried to isolate Putin over the conflict, now in its 13th month. Xi’s trip, announced Friday, is a diplomatic shot in the arm to the Russian leader at a time when his troops are bogged down in a battle of attrition, focused now on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
The U.S. on Friday said it would oppose any effort by China at the meeting to propose a ceasefire in Ukraine as the “ratification of Russian conquest.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby encouraged Xi to reach out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to get his country’s perspective on the war and to avoid any “one-sided” proposals.
China has sought to project itself as neutral in the conflict, even while it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and declared last year that it had a “no-limits” friendship with Russia. Beijing has denounced Western sanctions against Moscow, and accused NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
Throughout the conflict, China has said the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. It remains unclear, however, whether it sympathizes with Moscow’s claims to seized Ukrainian territory.
Xi’s visit would mark his first meeting with Putin since September, when they met on the sidelines of a regional summit in Samarkand, Ubekistan. Before that, Putin attended the opening of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and met with Xi shortly before sending troops into Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Putin and Xi would have a one-on-one meeting over an informal dinner Monday. Broader talks involving officials from both countries are scheduled for Tuesday.
Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, suggested the talks could yield new approaches to the fighting in Ukraine.
“I’m sure that our leader and the Chinese leader will exchange their assessments of the situation in the context of the development of the conflict in Ukraine,” Ushakov said. “We shall see what ideas will emerge after that.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain would welcome any genuine effort by China aimed at “restoring sovereignty to Ukraine.” Kyiv says that is non-negotiable in any attempt at ending the war.
“Any peace deal which is not predicated on Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination is not a peace deal at all,” Sunak’s spokesman Jamie Davies said.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang reached out to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, telling him that Beijing was concerned about the war spinning out of control and urging talks on a political solution with Moscow.
China has “always upheld an objective and fair stance on the Ukraine issue, has committed itself to promoting peace and advancing negotiations and calls on the international community to create conditions for peace talks,” Qin said.
Kuleba later tweeted that he and Qin “discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity.” Ukraine has listed Russia’s withdrawal from the occupied areas as the main condition for peace.
“I underscored the importance of (Zelenskyy’s)’s peace formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine,” wrote Kuleba, who spoke the same day with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
China last month called for a Ukraine cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Zelenskyy cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement but the overture appeared to go no further.
China has its own territorial issues with Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
Beijing’s apparent deeper dive into Ukraine issues follows its success last week in brokering talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia. Those two countries agreed to restore their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.
The agreement cast China in a leading role in Middle Eastern politics, a part previously reserved for longtime global heavyweights like the U.S.
On the back of that, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
Washington has marshaled Western military and diplomatic efforts against Putin, but the Russian leader has showed no signs of softening his belligerent stance.
In Washington on Friday, Kirby told reporters, “A ceasefire now is, again, effectively the ratification of Russian conquest.” It would, he added, ”in effect recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor’s territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
He warned that Russia could use a ceasefire to regroup “so that they can restart attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing.”
The destruction of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday following an encounter with Russian fighter jets further escalated U.S.-Russia tensions, although it also prompted the first conversations between the countries’ defense and military chiefs since October.
Putin invited Xi to visit Russia during a video conference call the two held in late December. The visit, Putin said, could “demonstrate to the whole world the strength of the Russian-Chinese ties” and “become the main political event of the year in bilateral relations.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Friday that Xi “will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern….”
“Currently, the world is entering a new period of turbulence and reform with the accelerated evolution of changes of the century. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and important major countries, the significance and impact of the China-Russia relations go far beyond the bilateral sphere,” he added.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Xi and Putin will exchange views “in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation in the international arena,” and would sign “important bilateral documents.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine-war
‘Nothing to come back to,’ says Ukrainian woman in Canada, her beloved home destroyed
Oleksandra Verovkina is shown outside her home in Ottawa, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
By Laura Osman in Irpin
Oleksandra Verovkina and her son, Danylo, would stroll half a block through the back alley behind their apartment to a large forest. They would walk hand in hand beneath the tall trees, the air filled with the scent of pine resin, until the three-year old lost steam, and then return home.
The bright orange dining room in their fourth-storey apartment soaked up the sun streaming in from the skylight in the roof. Oleksandra would place a cup of hot chocolate on the child-sized table where Danylo worked away on his favourite puzzle, a map of the world.
When they did not feel up to a walk they would venture outside to the parking lot beside the white stucco building, where her son played on a bright yellow, metal play structure with a slide and swing. They were often joined by his best friend, who lived two floors below.
Oleksandra, 36, had dreamt of leaving Ukraine for Canada since 2014 when separatist forces first seized the Donbas region where she lived at the time. But she put that idea aside in 2020 when she and her husband bought the relatively newly built apartment in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv. It was the first home they owned together.
“When we landed in Irpin I fell in love with the city. It’s amazing,” she said, wearing a traditional embroidered Ukrainian blouse called a Vyshyvanka, with her blond hair in a bun.
“You can feel this spirit of community.”
The family does not live there anymore.
On the morning of Feb. 24, 2022, Oleksandra woke up to the sound of her buzzing phone. It wasn’t until she shook off the sleep that she heard the explosions in the distance.
“When we woke up, we started hearing the bombs and military flights, helicopters,” Oleksandra said.
Russian forces invaded from Belarus. Tanks rolled south toward the capital city of Kyiv. Airstrikes hit across the country in the early morning hours.
On the phone, her brother was asking her what they were planning to do. She did not have an answer.
Her husband, Oleksii, did. He had been paying attention to reports about enemy forces amassing on the border between Ukraine and Belarus to the north. Though most people in their lives did not believe news stories about an impending attack, Oleksii had started to get ready.
Together they packed a few essentials: toiletries, some clothing, and toys and books for their son. Oleksandra’s favourite sweater was still in the laundry machine. She left it behind.
Given the massive amount of people trying to get out of the city, they knew they had a long journey ahead of them.
But when they heard bombs drop down on the nearby Hostomel Airport, they knew it was time to go.
“We got scared,” she said. Oleksii urged them to leave at 7 p.m. They buckled Danylo in the back of the car to begin the 12-hour crawl through stop-and-go traffic to the home of her brother’s girlfriend in Khmelnytskyi, in southwestern Ukraine.
Before they pulled out of the parking lot, Oleksandra ran back inside to take out the trash; she didn’t want the house to smell by the time they returned.
She did not pause to take a last look at the home she loved.
Now, on a day just a year after the Russian invasion began, the scent of pine from the nearby forest mingles with that of burnt metal and dust.
The roof above Oleksandra’s unit, where the skylight lit the dining room, is gone.
The sand in the playground where Oleksandra pushed Danylo on the swings is still scattered with broken glass. Coffee mugs and ceramic flowerpots on the burnt-out windowsills and balconies hint at how quickly neighbours picked up their lives and fled.
This time last year, the family spent a month together in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment with Oleksandra’s brother, his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s daughter. All six of them would eat around a small table, shoulder to shoulder. At night, when air-raid sirens went off, Oleksandra slept in the hallway with her son, away from the windows, in case a rocket landed nearby.
She felt lost and indecisive.
The suburb they left behind became a battleground. Russian soldiers occupied Irpin and nearby Bucha outside of Kyiv in an attempt to take the capital city. Returning home was not an option.
She still was not keen on leaving Ukraine, but now for a different reason. Men ages 18 to 60 were banned from leaving the country as part of the conditions imposed under martial law shortly after the invasion.
Leaving Ukraine meant leaving her husband, too.
“I was thinking that it’s better to stay together, like family,” she said.
But when Oleksii learned of a special three-year Canadian visa for Ukrainians fleeing the war, he dug out the application forms.
She hated the thought of splitting up her family to travel across the world, but the longer the conflict dragged on, the clearer it became that they would not be able to go home any time soon.
She applied on the first day the program opened and received a response right away. Within a week, she and Danylo were on their way to Romania to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of Canada’s immigration process.
On March 26, 2022, days after making the wrenching decision to leave both her country and her husband, she found out the home she loved in Irpin was gone.
Oleksii had found a post on the social media app Telegram about a fire in their apartment building.
“The roof was on fire,” she said, almost a year later. “It was very obvious.”
Ukraine recaptured the suburb a few days later, but Oleksandra had already decided that her life in that country was over.
“We have nothing to come back to. We have nothing in Ukraine,” she said, sitting in the sunny living room of the rental house in Ottawa.
She lives there now with her son, her parents and a friend, while Oleksii lives in Kyiv, where he plans to work until he can join his family in Canada.
The two talk on the phone twice a day.
Though Oleksandra says she has accepted what’s happened to her home, her breath still catches in her throat when she sees it now.
“It looks horrible,” she says softly as she scans photographs and videos taken by The Canadian Press during a recent visit to Irpin.
The white stucco siding is blackened and burned, the windows are blown out and twisted sheets of metal hang off the roof and balconies. The parking lot is full of debris, and small pieces of the building fall from the four-storey building with every strong breeze.
It is unclear what happened to it, because most neighbours were not in the suburb at the time. Those who have since returned to the area believe it was hit by a missile. Pockmarks in the side of the building suggest it was also hit by shrapnel from nearby explosions.
Damage to the building next door was mostly limited to blasted-out windows, which have since been repaired. Neighbours come and go, stepping over the sharp rubble scattered around Oleksandra’s apartment building on their way in and out.
For those who have returned, the empty building is a reminder of what has been lost.
Oksana Kucheryna, an older woman who lives in a nearby building, walked by on her way to the shop on a day in late February, plastic bag in band. She says she often stops to take a long look at the crumbling building as she passes by. She wraps herself in her winter coat, kerchief tied neatly around her head, as she makes her way through the same alley Oleksandra and Danylo would take on their forest walks.
“Now we are used to looking at it, but at first, it was horrible to see it,” she said, her eyes watering as she stared up at the charred building.
“I want to cry watching all this. People worked hard to buy these apartments. And at one point, all of it was gone.”
Rebuilding efforts have been underway in Irpin since Ukraine retook the community last March, but the buildings that appear to be beyond repair, such as Oleksandra’s, have been mostly left as they are: black and hollowed by the violence of the past year.
Craters in the pavement show where projectiles landed outside homes, shops and schools.
Outside the grocery store, a crowd of people — mainly seniors, teens and mothers with strollers — wait in line as volunteers hand out meals and small bags of food to take home for the week.
The toll of the war is on the faces of the people who have returned to the community, many of whom keep their eyes cast down to the sidewalk as they make their way past the wreckage.
In Ottawa, Oleksandra sometimes still feels a pull for the things and places she left behind. Often it’s small things she yearns for, like the cosy, second-hand sweatshirt with the NASA logo, her favourite on cold days, that was in the laundry machine while she hastily packed her suitcase last year.
Not everything in Irpin is lost.
Near Oleksandra’s former home, a mother and her son could be seen walking hand in hand through the towering trees.
Oleksandra cannot imagine returning now. She feels that even in the aftermath of the war, the community would be dangerous for her son.
Oleksandra is rebuilding, too, her life now in Ottawa.
“I feel like I’m Canadian,” she says. Now that she is safe, she feels like she and Danylo can adjust to the new environment.
Volunteers have helped her furnish her new home. The table and chairs are almost the same as the ones she left in her bright orange dining room in Irpin.
A three-minute walk from her rental home in Ottawa, there is a forested lot full of maple trees where mother and son can go for a stroll.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2023.
Analysis: China’s sway over Russia grows amid Ukraine fight
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive to attend a signing ceremony following their talks at The Grand Kremlin Palace, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Grigory Sysoyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
By Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow
MOSCOW (AP) — It was a revealing moment during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s tightly scripted visit to Moscow: Standing in the doorway of the Grand Kremlin Palace, he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two of them were “witnessing the changes that haven’t been seen in more than a century, and we are pushing them together.”
“I agree,” Putin responded.
The remarks — caught on a Kremlin camera over a bodyguard’s shoulder — offered a rare glimpse into Xi’s ambitions and his relationship with Russia after more than a year of fighting in Ukraine.
While Moscow increasingly looks like a junior partner to Beijing, Xi is likely to offer a strong lifeline to Putin, his key partner in efforts to reshape the world to try to limit U.S. domination.
Xi’s unusually blunt statement capped more than 10 hours of Kremlin talks, which ended with long declarations filled with florid rhetoric about expanding the “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between Russia and China, pledges to champion a multilateral approach to global affairs and criticism of Washington.
In his concluding statement, Putin hailed the Chinese proposal for a settlement in Ukraine, which the West had all but rejected as a non-starter. The Russian leader also rolled out a slew of initiatives that cemented his country’s role as a key source of energy and other raw materials for China’s giant economy. He proposed building new energy pipelines, invited the Chinese to fill the niche left after the exodus of Western businesses, and vowed to boost the export of agricultural products to China.
Xi remained tight-lipped, avoiding any firm commitments regarding specific projects and mostly sticking to general and vague rhetoric about expanding ties.
“A lot of things that Vladimir Putin would have liked to happen did not, in fact, happen,” Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University, told The Associated Press. “There was no point at which Xi explicitly said that he accepted Russia’s position on the Ukraine war over the position of Ukraine.”
In fact, there was “a sense that China was reserving for itself the right to step away from a complete endorsement” of the Russian position, Mitter added.
Moscow and Beijing said they would increase contacts between their militaries and stage more joint sea and air patrols and drills, but there wasn’t even the slightest hint from China that it could help Russia with weapons, as the U.S. and other Western allies feared.
Speaking Wednesday before a Senate committee, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China so far has heeded strong U.S. warnings against providing lethal material support for Russia in Ukraine. “We have not seen them cross that — cross that line,” he said.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby described the Putin-Xi relationship as “a marriage of convenience,” in which they pool efforts to challenge U.S. leadership, and the Russians “certainly are the junior partner.” He added at briefing earlier this week that Putin sees Xi as “a lifeline of sorts” amid the fighting in Ukraine.
Many commentators argued that the summit marked Putin’s failure to win any specific aid from Beijing and cemented Russia’s increasingly subordinate role in the alliance with China.
“China’s domination of Russia is complete,” tweeted Sam Greene, professor in Russian politics at King’s College London. “While there were undoubtedly agreements we are not meant to know about, there is no indication here of a significant increase in military support for Russia — nor even of a willingness on Xi’s part to ramp up diplomatic support. A swing and a miss for Putin.”
After more than a year of fighting in Ukraine and bruising Western sanctions, Russia’s dependence on China has increased significantly. Facing Western restrictions on its oil, gas and other exports, Russia has shifted its energy flows to China and sharply expanded other exports, resulting in a 30% hike in bilateral trade.
Western price caps on Russia’s oil forced Moscow to offer it to China and other customers at a sharp discount, but despite those lower prices, the vast Chinese market ensured a stable flow of oil revenue to the Kremlin’s war coffers.
As long as Russia can trade with China and other Asian states, it will face “no danger of running out of money or being forced to concede on the battlefield, said Chris Weafer, CEO of the consulting firm Macro-Advisory.
While profiting handsomely from Moscow’s desperate situation, Beijing would be certain to ramp up its support if it sees Russia dangerously weakened.
“The nightmare scenario for China is that collapse of Russia militarily leads to collapse of the regime and installment of some pro-Western government,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
Gabuev argued that Beijing would be unlikely to provide any direct military assistance to Moscow anytime soon simply because it doesn’t feel the pressing need to do so. “Russia is not doing great on the battlefield, but it’s obviously not losing it, so need to support the Russian military efforts so far is questionable from both sides,” he said.
More than ammunition, tanks and rockets, Russia badly needs China’s help in skirting Western sanctions to maintain the flow of high-tech components for its weapons industries and other economic sectors. Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, predicted that China could be expected to act more resolutely to help Russia get them.
“Russia doesn’t need weapons from China,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “It needs microchips and components, and they will come.”
Some observers say that while Beijing has been coy about supporting Moscow, it has vital interest in shoring up its ally to avoid being left alone in any potential confrontation with the United States.
Mikhail Korostikov, an expert on Russia-China ties, said in a commentary for the Carnegie Endowment that China has been closely watching Russia’s experience in facing massive Western sanctions. “For Beijing, a close study and partial use of instruments and decisions used by Russia is a reasonable course in a situation when China’s confrontation with the West looks inevitable,” he said.
Korostikov noted that while Moscow’s dependence on Beijing is growing, China’s room for maneuvering is also shrinking.
“There is no alternative to Russia as a partner providing resources that China will critically need in case of an escalation in its confrontation with the West,” he said. “It helps balance the situation and allows Moscow to hope that Beijing will not overuse its newly-acquired economic levers.”
Isachenkov has covered Russia and other former Soviet nations for The Associated Press since 1992.
Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in New York, and Matthew Lee and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.
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