After Xi-Putin summit, Moscow strikes Ukraine
Over the past few days, Vladimir Putin pulled out all the stops to entertain his "good old friend" Xi Jinping in Moscow, during what was perhaps the most geopolitically significant bilateral summit of the year so far.
Seven-course dinner — check. Insanely long red carpet at the Kremlin — check. Putin doing Xi the rare courtesy of showing up on time — check.
But beyond the pomp, ничего особенного (nothing much). The summit ended with a joint press conference featuring boilerplate statements about Sino-Russian cooperation. There was no mention of China potentially supplying arms to Russia, and no call for a ceasefire in Ukraine, although Putin did say that Xi's peace plancould be a first step toward a negotiated settlement “once the West and Kyiv are ready for it."
But then right after Xi's visit on Wednesday, the Kremlin launched fresh drone and missile strikes on Ukrainian cities, killing at least four people in a residential area outside Kyiv.
While President Volodymyr Zelensky has so far tried to remain open to Beijing's intervention, he tweeted that "every time someone tries to hear the word 'peace' in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes."
Is Putin feeling emboldened? From Putin's perspective, a visit from Xi, who’s been something of a homebody himself since the pandemic, lets Putin show that although the US and its allies have blackballed him, he is still far from isolated globally – and that the Russia-China friendship “without limits” is an axis of power Washington has to reckon with.
We're watching to see how — or if — Beijing responds to the latest onslaught that comes on the heels of Xi's whirlwind diplomacy.
Kishida in Kyiv
All things considered, it’s not surprising that Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida went to Ukraine to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday. Kishida was the only leader of a G7 nation that hadn’t yet made the trip, and Japan is chairing the group’s summit in Hiroshima in May. But it is striking when he chose to visit and where he traveled while there.
Arriving in Kyiv on a day when Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow was striking. Kishida also visited a mass grave in the town of Bucha to pay respects to the Ukrainian victims of alleged Russian war crimes, offering a none-too-subtle comment on Putin’s recent indictment by the International Criminal Court.
Japan’s foreign ministry said the trip underscored Kishida’s "absolute rejection of Russia's one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force.” It also follows last week's dramatic breakthrough in Japan’s relations with South Korea, another move signaling that, while Japan must continue to carefully balance its relations with China, Kishida will be more assertive and outspoken on foreign policy than most of Japan’s recent prime ministers.