Xi and Putin tout closer ties, as the US scolds China for providing ‘cover’ for Russia’s war in Ukraine

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(CNN) — Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin on Tuesday pledged to tighten the ties between China and Russia on the global scene, in a show of unity at the Kremlin that has heightened concerns that Beijing will provide cover for Moscow’s raging war in Ukraine.

Xi arrived in the Russian capital on Monday posing as a peacemaker on Ukraine, but the second day of his visit featured little mention of the conflict, emphasizing instead the nations’ shared strategic visions and raising the prospect of a strengthened anti-Western union at the international level.

The US scolded Beijing for providing “diplomatic cover” for Moscow’s war in Ukraine through the chummy and convivial state visit, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise trip to Ukraine in a rivaling show of support for Kyiv.

Xi began a second round of talks with Putin in the afternoon, and took part in a ceremony in which both men signed agreements to deepen their partnerships.

According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, the leaders emphasized that the Ukrainian crisis should be solved through peace talks. But those overtures were dismissed by Kyiv and the West, who have repeated this week that any peace agreement must include a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine’s territory.

“All our talks today and yesterday in one to one format and with delegations were successful and took place in friendly atmosphere,” Putin said at a joint appearance at the Kremlin.

Earlier in the day Xi invited Putin to travel to China at a time of his choice later this year, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

The key question of global interest hanging over the talks is whether any outcomes will impact the conflict in Ukraine, where Russia continues an onslaught that has triggered a mass humanitarian crisis and left tens of thousands dead.

China in recent weeks has attempted to portray itself as an aspiring broker of peace, calling for ceasefire and peace talks in a vaguely-worded position paper released last month.

Putin – who Xi has described as a “dear friend” – said Russia had “carefully studied” China’s proposals and promised “an opportunity to discuss this matter,” according to a Kremlin readout.

But Western countries have viewed Beijing’s framing with deep suspicion, and NATO’s chief said Tuesday that the alliance has seen “some signs” that Russia is pressing China to provide lethal aid.

‘Diplomatic cover’

There has been wide skepticism of China’s position on resolving the conflict, centered on concerns that nothing offered by Beijing so far reflects Ukraine’s demand that all Russian troops withdraw from its territory.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday hit out at Xi’s visit, remarking that it came just days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin.

“China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” Washington’s top diplomat said.

Any calls for a ceasefire “that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest” as it would “allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops, and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia,” he added.

Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov also that day said on Twitter that the “successful implementation” of a Chinese “peace plan” must start with the “capitulation or withdrawal” of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

Xi’s visit to Moscow coincides with a surprise trip to Ukraine from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, reported by Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

Xi also invited Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to visit China during their meeting on Tuesday morning, TASS reported, adding that Mishustin had already accepted the invitation.

NATO meanwhile said it was aware that Russia has likely requested lethal aid from China to bolster Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

“We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia, but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday.

“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia. That would be to support an illegal war,” Stoltenberg warned.

This story was first published on CNN.com, “Xi and Putin tout closer ties, as the US scolds China for providing ‘cover’ for Russia’s war in Ukraine"