Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a surprise visit to Kiev on Tuesday, engaging in a diplomatic duel with rival Asian President Xi Jinping of China, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to promote the Beijing’s peace proposal for Ukraine that Western nations have all but written off as a non-initiator.
The two visits, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) apart, highlighted how countries are lining up behind Moscow or kyiv during the nearly 13-month war. Kishida, who will chair the Group of Seven summit in May, became the latest member of the group to visit Ukraine and meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, after paying tribute to those killed in Bucha, a city that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians.
Xi and Putin did not announce any major progress in implementing the peace deal with China, although the Russian leader said it could be the basis for ending the fighting when the West is ready. He added that kyiv’s Western allies have shown no interest in that.
US officials have said that any peace plan emerging from the Putin-Xi meeting would be unacceptable because a ceasefire would only ratify Moscow’s territorial gains and give Russia time to plan a renewed offensive.
“It seems the West really intends to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” Putin said, adding that the latest threat is a British plan to give Ukraine tank rounds containing depleted uranium.
“If that happens, Russia will respond accordingly, as the collective West is starting to use weapons with a nuclear component,” he said, without elaborating. Putin has occasionally warned that Russia would use all available means, including possibly nuclear weapons, to defend itself, but he has also on occasion backed down from such threats.
Putin’s comment referred to Monday’s comments by UK Junior Defense Minister Annabel Goldie, who wrote: “In addition to our concession of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will provide ammunition, including rounds armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium. Such shells are very effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the plan shows the British “have lost their way”, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said it “marked another step, and there are not many of them left.”
But weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s Royal Tank Regiment, said it was “reckless” of Putin “to try to suggest that Britain is sending nuclear material” to Ukraine. He said depleted uranium is a common component of tank shells, possibly even used by Russia.
“Putin insinuating that they are some kind of nuclear weapon is crazy,” he told The Associated Press. “Depleted uranium is completely inert. There is no way you can create a nuclear reaction or a nuclear explosion with depleted uranium.”
Beijing insists that it is a neutral broker in Ukraine, and Xi said after his talks with Putin: “We adhere to an objective and principled position on the Ukraine crisis based on the objectives and principles of the UN Charter.” The Chinese plan seeks to “actively promote peace and the resumption of talks,” he said.
In a joint statement, Russia and China stressed the need to “respect the legitimate security concerns of all countries” to resolve the conflict, echoing Moscow’s argument that it sent troops to prevent the United States and its NATO allies. turn the country into an anti-Russian stronghold country.
“Russia welcomes China’s readiness to play a positive role in the political and diplomatic settlement of the Ukraine crisis” and the “constructive ideas” contained in the Beijing peace plan, the statement said. He added: “The parties underline that a responsible dialogue offers the best path for a lasting settlement… and the international community should support constructive efforts in this regard.”
After meeting with Kishida, Zelenskyy told reporters that his team had sent its own peace formula to China but had received no response, adding that there were “some signs, but nothing concrete about the possibility of dialogue.”
Kishida called the invasion of Russia a “shame that undermines the foundations of the international legal order” and vowed to “continue supporting Ukraine until peace returns to the beautiful Ukrainian lands.”
Hours before Xi and Putin were to partake in a state dinner in the glittering opulence of the Kremlin, Kishida laid flowers at a church in Bucha for the city’s victims.
“After this visit to Bucha, I feel a strong resentment against cruelty,” he said. “I would like to represent the people of Japan and express my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones and were injured as a result of this cruel act.”
US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel noted the “two very different partnerships between Europe and the Pacific” that unfolded on Tuesday.
“Kishida stands for freedom and Xi stands for a war criminal,” Emanuel tweeted, referring to Friday’s decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Putin, saying it wanted to put him on trial for the kidnapping of thousands of children. from Ukraine.
kyiv’s allies promised more support. Washington is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, sending a refurbished older version that may be ready faster, the Pentagon has announced. The goal is to get the 70-ton behemoths into the war zone by fall.
The Russia-China front against the West was a prominent topic of Xi’s visit. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused NATO of trying to become the world’s dominant military force. “That is why we are expanding our cooperation with China, including in the security sphere,” he said.
Putin is eager to show that he has a heavyweight ally and a market for Russian energy products under Western sanctions. He and Xi signed economic cooperation agreements, noting that Russian-Chinese trade rose 30% last year to $185 billion and is expected to exceed $200 billion this year.
Russia is “ready to meet the Chinese economy’s growing demand for energy resources” by increasing oil and gas deliveries, he said, while listing other areas of cooperation, including the shipbuilding and aircraft industries and other high-tech sectors. .
Whether China will provide military support is a key question. Western officials “have seen some signs” that Putin also wants lethal weapons from Beijing, although there is no evidence that he agreed to his request, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
More contacts are planned. Xi said he invited Putin to China this year to discuss a regional initiative that seeks to extend Beijing’s influence through economic cooperation.
Both Moscow and Beijing have resisted international condemnation of their human rights records. The Chinese government is accused of atrocities against Uyghur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang. The charges include genocide, forced sterilization and the mass detention of nearly 1 million Uyghurs. Beijing has denied the allegations. Russia has been accused of war crimes in Ukraine, charges it denies.
Kishida traveled by train from Poland to Kiev just hours after meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and a week after a revolutionary summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.
Both China and Japan have enjoyed recent diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.
Japan, which has been embroiled in territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is particularly concerned about the Beijing-Moscow relationship. Both nations have held joint military exercises off the coast of Japan.
Beijing’s diplomatic foray follows its recent success in brokering a deal between Iran and its main Middle East rival Saudi Arabia to restore relations after years of tensions. The move showed China’s influence in a region where Washington has long been the main foreign player.
Kishida became the first postwar leader of Japan to enter a war zone.
Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has been limited to non-lethal equipment and humanitarian supplies. It has provided more than $7 billion to Ukraine and has accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians, despite its strict immigration policy.
Tokyo joined American and European nations in sanctioning Russia for the invasion. By contrast, China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and has criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and Washington of provoking Putin’s military action.
Japan fears the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where China’s military has become increasingly assertive and heightened tensions over self-government by Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said of Kishida’s trip: “We hope Japan can do more to de-escalate the situation rather than the other way around.”