Europe 1 with AFP 16:16 p.m., March 20, 2023

On Monday, at the start of a highly anticipated meeting in Moscow, Vladimir Putin said he was "open" to discussions on the Chinese peace plan for Ukraine with Xi Jinping. The latter in return praised the "close relations" between Russia and China. This visit comes just over a year after the launch of the Russian offensive.

Vladimir Putin said Monday he was "open" to talks on the Chinese peace plan for Ukraine with Xi Jinping, who in return praised the "close relations" between Russia and China, at the start of a highly anticipated meeting in Moscow. The Chinese president's three-day state visit to Russia began Monday comes just over a year after the launch of Russia's offensive against Ukraine, which caused geopolitical and economic upheaval.

Beijing, mediator to settle the conflict

Despite its privileged relations with Moscow in the midst of tensions with the West, Beijing, which claims diplomatic influence commensurate with the weight of the Chinese economy, poses as a mediator and last month proposed an initiative to settle the conflict. "We are always open to a process of negotiations. We will undoubtedly discuss all these issues, including your initiatives, which we treat with respect," Putin said at the start of an "informal" meeting with Xi Jinping in the Kremlin, broadcast on Russian television.

For his part, the Chinese president hailed the "close relations" between Beijing and Moscow, which have "comprehensive strategic cooperation," according to the official Russian translation of his remarks. For Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping's visit in the form of support is all the more important as he is increasingly isolated in the West and targeted since last week by an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for "war crimes". The Kremlin said their "informal" tete-a-tete would be followed by dinner, before more formal talks on Tuesday, with the expected signing of agreements to deepen Russian-Chinese cooperation.

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"Journey of peace"

If China, strong of its role in the recent reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, puts forward its plan for Ukraine, it has difficulty convincing Western countries. London said Monday it "hopes" Xi Jinping would press Vladimir Putin to "put an end to the atrocities" in Ukraine. The United States, for its part, accuses China of considering supplying weapons to Russia, which Beijing strongly denies. Kiev, which politely welcomed China's peace plan, on Monday urged the Chinese president to "use its influence on Moscow to end the war of aggression."

According to the US daily The Wall Street Journal, Xi Jinping may have a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once he returns to China. As if to signify its support for Kiev in the face of Beijing's support for Moscow, the European Union announced on Monday that it had released two billion euros to buy and deliver artillery ammunition to Ukraine. But this summit also aims to show the understanding between Russia and China, at a time when these two countries are experiencing strong tensions with the West, even if Moscow seems more dependent on Beijing than the opposite.

In an article in a Russian newspaper, Xi Jinping described his trip as a "journey of friendship, cooperation and peace." "We have many common tasks and goals," Putin told the Chinese president on Monday. In an article published in a Chinese daily, the Russian head of state said Russian-Chinese relations had "reached the peak of their history".

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Economic dependence

Isolated in Europe and now under an ICC arrest warrant, Vladimir Putin can once again count on Beijing's support. Chinese diplomacy on Monday called on the ICC, whose headquarters are in The Hague, Netherlands, to avoid any "politicization" and respect the immunity of heads of state. Moscow, for its part, responded by announcing on Monday a criminal investigation against several ICC magistrates. As a sign of defiance, the Russian president visited Mariupol over the weekend, a Ukrainian city devastated by Russian bombing.

Beyond diplomatic support for Russia, which has massively reoriented its economy towards China in the face of Western sanctions related to the conflict in Ukraine, Xi Jinping's visit also has economic significance. In particular, Russia has increased its hydrocarbon exports to Asian giants, such as China, to compensate for European embargoes. This makes it increasingly dependent on Beijing, according to analysts. According to the Kremlin, the two presidents will sign several documents, including on Russian-Chinese economic cooperation by 2030.