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.
Europe OKs plan to tally cost of Moscow’s war in Ukraine with eye toward future reparations
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a media conference at the Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Leaders from across Europe were wrapping a two-day summit on Wednesday, putting the final touches on a system to establish the damage Russia is causing during the war in Ukraine, in the hopes it can be forced to compensate victims and help rebuild the nation once the conflict is over. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
By Molly Quell in Reykjavik
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — More than 40 nations agreed Wednesday to set up a system to tally the damage Russia has inflicted on Ukraine in the hope of getting reparations, adding to the international legal challenges the Kremlin is facing.
The register of damages, which will allow Ukrainian victims of war to catalog the harm they have suffered, found a plethora of support among the 46-nation Council of Europe summit in Iceland. Participants also discussed the details of a potential future tribunal where Russia would face charges for waging war.
“This Reykjavik summit shows clearly that Putin has failed with his calculations – he wanted to divide Europe and has achieved the opposite,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “We stand closer together in Europe than ever before.”
While leaders were at the waterside venue on the far-flung island nation for two days, the United Nations’ top court announced it would hold hearings next month in a case between Russia and Ukraine. Kyiv claims Moscow is discriminating against minority groups in occupied Crimea and is financing terrorism in the region.
But even if Ukraine prevails at The Hague-based International Court of Justice, a ruling wouldn’t make whole the millions of Ukrainians whose homes and lives have been torn apart by the conflict.
In theory, victims might have better luck at the Council of Europe’s own court, the European Court of Human Rights, where Moscow is facing thousands of complaints of human rights violations, including three brought by Ukraine. The Strasbourg-based court can order countries to pony up restitution, but Russia’s neighbor Georgia has been yet unable to collect for damages inflicted by Moscow when it invaded in 2008.
However, Russia was expelled from the council last year, in the wake of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And as long ago as 2015, it passed a law allowing it to overrule judgements from the ECHR.
Neither the court, nor the council, now has any channel of communication with the Russian authorities.
The damages register is seen as a first step toward justice in Ukraine. “Accountability is one of the topics that is of crucial importance,” Marija Pejcinovic Buric, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, told the AP in an interview.
Compiling a comprehensive register of the destruction may be a first step: it’s unclear what else might follow. The Council of Europe has made it clear that it will not assess the credibility of any claims, nor will it fund reparations payments. Those decisions will be left for other potential future institutions to determine.
Little wonder that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressing the summit from Kyiv, reiterated his country’s wish for such a court specifically for the prosecution of Russian aggression. In addition to military aid, another conference topic, he said his country needed “100% of justice, as there will be no reliable peace without justice.”
While international institutions may be bogged down in overcoming legal hurdles to accountability, a group of squatters in Amsterdam has cut through the red tape – and the locks of the $3.5 million Amsterdam home belonging to one of Russia’s sanctioned oligarchs.
A court in the Dutch city ruled on Wednesday that an anarchist group, who took over the Russian tech billionaire Arkady Volozh’s house in October, could remain in the five-story, 19th-century mansion so long as they didn’t annoy the neighbors.
Putin, Zelenskyy agree to meet with ‘African leaders peace mission,’ says South Africa president
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens during a press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in the garden at Chequers, in Aylesbury, England, on May 15, 2023. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday May 16, 2023 that his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of African heads of state to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine. (Carl Court/Pool via AP, File)
By Gerald Imray in Cape Town
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said Tuesday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.
“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said.
The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Ramaphosa, he said in a statement. Putin and Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to “commence the preparations,” the South African leader said.
Four of those six African countries — South Africa, Republic of Congo, Senegal and Uganda — abstained from a U.N. vote last year on condemning Russia’s invasion. Zambia and Egypt voted in favor of the motion.
Ramaphosa did not give a time frame or outline any parameters for the possible peace talks. Zelenskyy has said he would not consider a peace deal to end the 15-month war until Russian forces withdraw completely from Ukrainian territory.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also was briefed on the African delegation’s planned meetings and “welcomed the initiative,” Ramaphosa said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed Monday that Ramaphosa spoke to Gutteres Monday afternoon during his visit to Jamaica.
“As we’ve said before, we are in favor of any initiative that could lead us to a peace in line with the (U.N.) Charter, in line with international law and in line with General Assembly resolutions,” Dujarric said.
The announcement of the African-led peace effort came as Russia launched a heavy air attack on Kyiv.
There was no immediate reaction Tuesday from either the Kremlin or Kyiv. A readout from a phone conversation Putin and Ramaphosa had Friday said the Russian leader supported “Cyril Ramaphosa’s idea about a group of African leaders participating in the discussion of the prospects of resolving the Ukrainian conflict.”
It wasn’t clear if that was the phone call Ramaphosa was referring to when he said he spoke with Putin over the weekend.
South Africa’s leading position in the African delegation is bound to draw scrutiny. Ramaphosa’s announcement came days after the U.S. ambassador accused South Africa of siding with Russia in the war in Ukraine and even providing weapons to help Moscow.
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety alleged last week that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship at a South African naval base in December and taken to Russia. The South African government has denied it sent any weapons to Russia.
Ramaphosa has said the matter is under investigation.
South Africa has claimed its position on the war is neutral. The country has strong historical ties with Russia due to the former Soviet Union’s support of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party when it was a liberation movement fighting to end the racist apartheid regime.
South Africa also hosted Russian and Chinese warships for joint naval exercises off its coast in February and which coincided with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. South Africa’s top army general traveled to Moscow and met with the commander of the Russian ground forces on Monday.
South Africa maintains it also retains a strong relationship with the United States and other Western supporters of Ukraine. Ramaphosa met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House late last year.
Zambia also has historical ties with Russia. Uganda is a U.S. ally on regional security in East Africa, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has spoken of his country’s friendship with Russia and its neutral position in the war in Ukraine.
Sipho Mantula, an analyst at South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs, said the neutrality of some of those African countries would help any talks.
“You don’t need people who will take sides and become proxy mediators,” Mantula said.
Russia and Ukraine are far apart in terms of an agreement to end the war.
The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, which most nations have denounced as illegal. Ukraine has rejected the demands and ruled out any talks with Russia until its troops pull back from all occupied territories.
Ukraine is determined to recover all Russian-occupied areas.
Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan also includes a tribunal to prosecute crimes of aggression, which would enable Russia to be held accountable for its invasion. Zelenskyy had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he sought support for Ukraine’s peace plan from the pontiff.
China has been the only other country so far offering to mediate possible peace talks, an offer clouded by its show of political support for Moscow.
Beijing released a proposed peace plan in February, and a Chinese envoy is preparing to visit Russia and Ukraine.
But there appeared to be little chance of an imminent breakthrough to end the war since Ukraine and its Western allies largely dismissed the Beijing’s proposal.
AP correspondent Hanna Arhirova contributed to this story from Kyiv, Ukraine. AP writers Dasha Litvinova in Talinn, Estonia, Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg also contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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