On Friday, March 17, authorities from both nations announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Russia the following week, weighing in on the Ukraine war just as relations between Moscow and Washington hit a new low.
Xi’s visit to Moscow is a diplomatic coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has been subjected to unprecedented international sanctions since the 24th of February, 2022, when he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.
Beijing and Moscow formed a “no limits” alliance just prior to the invasion, and American and European leaders have expressed fear that Beijing may supply Russia with armaments.
China has rejected such a plan and criticized Western arms supplies to Ukraine, which may likely include fighter jets after Poland and Slovakia approved deliveries this week. The Kremlin stated that the aircraft would be destroyed.
The Chinese foreign ministry stated that the purpose of Xi’s visit was to increase confidence, while the Kremlin stated that it would strengthen strategic collaboration. The Kremlin claimed without elaboration that “important” bilateral documents would be signed.
China is Russia’s most significant ally and has been purchasing Russian oil and other items that Western nations have avoided. Also a major purchaser of Ukrainian grain.
On March 18, the international agreement allowing the safe shipping of grain from many Ukrainian Black Sea ports expires. Russia has consented to a 60-day extension, while Ukraine, the United Nations, and Turkey, who brokered the initial agreement, have demanded a 120-day extension.
Russia has not said why Moscow insists on a shorter term, although it has claimed that Western sanctions are impeding its own exports of food and fertilizer.
Friday, the United Nations Office in Geneva announced that discussions on the renewal of the agreement to prevent a worldwide food catastrophe were ongoing.
Alessandra Vellucci, head of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, stated during a press briefing, “We will not speculate on what may occur tomorrow.”
China, which has not denounced Russia for invading Ukraine, has expressed alarm over the escalation of the conflict following the crash of a U.S. surveillance drone into the Black Sea three days ago, following the first known direct confrontation between the United States and Russia.
According to the Russian state-run news agency RIA, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave honors to the pilots of the jets on Friday, a clear response to the White House’s claims that the incident was irresponsible and maybe indicative of ineptitude.
Beijing has urged for peace negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, but Russia insists that Ukraine must acknowledge the loss of four areas in addition to the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine asserts that Russian soldiers must retreat beyond their 1991 borders – the year the Soviet Union disbanded – and that Moscow would utilize any cease-fire to strengthen its forces in preparation for a future assault.
What role does China play in all this?
According to certain media sources, Xi would call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy after his trip to Russia.
The call has not been confirmed by Beijing. According to a representative for Zelenskiy, there is still no definite agreement over whether the president will meet with Xi.
On Friday, Ukrainian soldiers continued to repel Russian assaults on the devastated city of Bakhmut, which has been the focal point of eight months of Russian attempts to march into the industrial Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine along the Russian border.
On March 16, Reuters reporters approximately 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the front lines could hear incessant artillery and small weapons fire.
Ihor, a 36-year-old soldier at the mortar position, reported that air strikes, mortar fire, and tank shelling had attacked Ukrainian soldiers.
“You don’t always look up to see what’s flying over you,” he continued, crouching in a deep trench.
Since World War II, Bakhmut has been Europe’s bloodiest infantry combat. The eastern portion of the city has been conquered by Russian soldiers led by the Wagner private army, but they have thus far been unable to encircle it.
On Friday, British intelligence reported that some Russian troops had crossed the river that divides the city, but Ukrainian military forces were still defending the western portion.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, posted an image of a destroyed apartment building on Telegram, stating that Russian forces conducted four airstrikes on the frontline village of Avdiivka south of Bakhmut on Friday.
“The city is being shelled nearly around the clock,” he tweeted, adding that no injuries had been reported on Friday.
According to the British report, Russia’s onslaught had halted in general, but would certainly resume once reinforcements came.
There was no way to verify the reports.
Russia denies targeting civilians, but claims it has attacked infrastructure in an effort to undermine Ukraine’s military and eliminate a possible threat to its own security.
Ukraine and its supporters accuse Russia of waging an unjustified war against its pro-Western neighbor to seize land.