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Xi and Zelensky Talk at Last, but Words Are Chosen Carefully – The New York Times – 26.04.23

Volodymyr Zelensky has urged discussions with Xi Jinping since the Russian invasion, but in its official account of the phone call, China left out two words: “Russia” and “war.”


Two months after issuing a vague plan for ending the war in Ukraine, China’s leader, a close ally of Vladimir V. Putin, on Wednesday acceded to repeated requests from the Ukrainian president to talk.


The one-hour telephone discussion between China’s Xi Jinping and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was the first known contact between the two leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.


China’s official account of the discussion was notable for its omission of two words: “Russia” and “war.” It referred instead to the need for a “political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” and warned of the danger of nuclear escalation.


For his part, Mr. Zelensky said the two leaders “had a long and meaningful phone call.”

In recent months, Mr. Xi has been trying to burnish his image as a global statesman by helping restore diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and by rolling out the red carpet in Beijing for visiting world leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France.


U.S. officials and their allies have questioned whether Mr. Xi has the ability to help mediate for peace in Ukraine — or even the intention to do so, given his close ties with the Kremlin — but in February, China released a 12-point plan laying out a path to ending the war.


Russia offered a muted response to the phone call on Wednesday through its Foreign Ministry.


“We note the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to work toward a negotiation process,” said the ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. She added, “Any initiatives for peace are unlikely to be adequately received by puppets controlled by Washington.”


The Biden administration welcomed the call as “a good thing.” But whether it is “going to lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement, or plan, or proposal — I just don’t think we know that right now,” said the National Security Council spokesman, John F. Kirby, according to Reuters.


As the West has moved to isolate Moscow globally in punishment for the February 2022 invasion, Russian leaders have worked to forge new relationships with other countries and strengthen existing alliances.


China has grown particularly close with Russia, and shares the Kremlin’s goal of upending a world order dominated by the United States and its allies. American officials have said they believe Beijing has seriously considered sending military aid to Moscow for its war.


The State of the War

  • Spring Offensive: Ukraine is preparing to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the face of immense risks: Without a decisive victory, Western support for Ukraine could weaken, and Kyiv could come under increasing pressure to enter serious peace talks to end or freeze the conflict.

  • In the South: Russian troops are forcibly relocating people from occupied areas near the city of Kherson as fighting there intensifies, Ukrainian officials said.

  • Grain Supplies: When Russia’s war blocked vitally needed Ukrainian grain exports, E.U. officials succeeded in finding other routes out. But the solution has caused discontent among European farmers.

The Chinese leader has repeatedly spoken to or met with Mr. Putin, including during a trip to Moscow on March 20, about a month after China issued its proposals for Ukraine, seemingly positioning itself as a potential mediator. The United States and Western allies largely dismissed the plan.


But even as Mr. Xi remained in close touch with Mr. Putin, and even after China released what it framed as a plan for peace, Chinese officials dodged questions about whether Mr. Xi would speak with the leader of the country his ally had invaded.


Ukraine, eager to maintain good ties with Beijing, has bitten its tongue as the Chinese government has pointedly refrained from joining those countries that have condemned the invasion.



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Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz, Eric Schmitt and Anatoly Kurmanaev.

David Pierson covers Chinese foreign policy and China’s economic and cultural engagement with the world. @dhpierson


Marc Santora is the international news editor based in London, focusing on breaking news events. He was previously the bureau chief for East and Central Europe, based in Warsaw. He has also reported extensively from Iraq and Africa. @MarcSantoraNYT


Vivian Wang is a China correspondent based in Beijing, where she writes about how the country's global rise and ambitions are shaping the daily lives of its people. @vwang3


A version of this article appears in print on April 27, 2023, Section A, Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: Xi and Zelensky Talk at Last, With Words Chosen Carefully. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

A photograph released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service on Wednesday was described as showing President Volodymyr Zelensky talking by phone with Xi Jinping. Credit...Ukrainian Presidential Press Service, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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