March 17, 2023 | 17:21
WASHINGTON – Ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week, the United States is concerned that a China-brokered Russia-Ukraine peace deal would end the war before Ukraine can regain territory, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
“We are deeply concerned about that because it actually means benefiting Russia at the expense of Ukraine,” he told reporters.
“It has to end in a fair way, in a way that respects Ukraine’s prerogatives and fully respects Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said.
“In a word, [Kyiv is] are still fighting for their sovereignty and we are still helping them to help them in that,” he added.
China confirmed on Friday that Xi will visit Russian President Vladimir Putin next week, weeks after Beijing released a 12-point plan to end the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides with an immediate ceasefire.
“President Xi’s visit is a journey to peace,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.
“China will defend an objective and fair position on the Ukraine crisis and act constructively in promoting peace negotiations.”
While Kirby said the peace plan “may sound good”, the US is wary that “any proposal by the People’s Republic of China … would be one-sided and only reflect Russia’s point of view”.
Although not formal allies, Russia and China both forged a “no borders” partnership weeks before Putin took over last year, and Xi has never condemned the invasion of Ukraine.
“If you look at their 12-point so-called ‘peace plan,’ it talks about a ceasefire,” Kirby said.
“The ceasefire is now practically a ratification of Russia’s conquest and in reality would recognize Russia’s victories and its attempt to conquer neighboring areas by force.
“With the ceasefire at the moment – while it may sound good – we don’t think it will have that kind of effect,” he added.
The Russian army now occupies a significant part of eastern and southeastern Ukraine as fighting continues throughout the Donbas region.
They have also held Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula since its previous invasion in 2014, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also vowed to release.
While Beijing’s peace plan would give Moscow permission to take all of those territories, Kirby said its ratification is “highly unlikely” to bring lasting peace because U.S. officials believe Putin won’t give up until he achieves his ultimate goal — capturing Kiev.
“Russia would be free [under the Beijing plan] using the ceasefire only to strengthen their positions in Ukraine to rebuild, rehabilitate and upgrade their forces so that they can resume attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing, Kirby said.
“We do not believe this is a step towards a just and lasting peace.”
Still, Wang insists that China remains neutral in supporting peace, noting that Xi “has a thorough exchange of views with President Putin … on important international and regional issues.”
But even if that were true, Xi is unlikely to pursue peace out of mere benevolence — he may intend to use it to position China as a world leader on the national stage, Kirby said.
“It’s possible they’re bringing up this idea of a ceasefire and trying to position themselves as the peacemakers and the only ones calling for an end to the fighting,” Kirby said.
“It would be a classic part of China’s playbook to go to a meeting like this and say, ‘Look, we’re calling for an end to the fighting, and nobody else is calling for it.’
“The reason the rest of the world isn’t calling for it right now is because, as I said, it would effectively ratify Russia’s geographic interests inside Ukraine and [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is clearly at a disadvantage.”
China’s efforts may also be “part of their attempts to increase their influence and it looks like their influence has actually increased,” Kirby said, as Xi looks to topple the U.S. as the world’s biggest superpower in the coming decades.
“When it comes to the war in Ukraine, they have not joined the rest of the international community in supporting Mr. Zelensky,” he said.
“We wish they would, but we’ll see what comes of this meeting.”
But so far, China has not announced any intention to meet or call Zelensky.
“A just, durable and lasting peace must be one that is not one-sided and that fully includes Ukrainian perspectives and respects the basic idea of sovereignty, in this case the sovereignty of Ukraine,” he said.
Officially, Wang said Xi’s upcoming visit is a “journey to friendship” aimed at “strengthening the political foundation and public support for the long-term friendship between the two nations.”
But even that worries some defense experts who are watching the rapidly growing relationship, especially since Russia has been forced to rely almost exclusively on other U.S. adversaries after most of the world isolated the country during its occupation of Ukraine.
“It’s very troubling whenever we see adversaries working together,” US Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, noting that Iran “sent hundreds of its advanced drones into Ukraine.”
Iran also sent troops to Crimea last year to train Russian soldiers on drones, while North Korea secretly supplied Russia with artillery shells, the White House said in November.
With both North Korea and Iran sending military aid to Russia since the war broke out, China remains the only major US adversary that has not supplied Moscow with weapons for the war in Ukraine.