Putin hosts China's president Xi in Moscow amid Ukraine war
The two leaders called each "dear friends" at the start of the three-day visit.
HONG KONG and LONDON -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has held the first day of talks with Vladimir Putin during a closely watched state visit to Moscow, with the two leaders presenting a united front against the West just days after the Russian president was accused by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
Xi's three-day state visit is the strongest show of support from China to Russia since the latter's invasion of Ukraine, representing a significant boost for Putin, and comes as Xi has sought to frame Beijing as a possible peace-maker in the conflict, even as Western countries have warned he is considering providing weapons to Moscow.
Xi landed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Monday afternoon, greeted by a Russian military band, telling camera crews on the tarmac that China and Russia were ready "to stand guard over the world order based on international law." A motorcade then whisked Xi to the Kremlin, where he was welcomed by Putin.
Speaking ahead of initial informal talks, both men described each other as "dear friends." Putin spoke admiringly of China's "colossal leap forward," adding: "All over the world, this is of genuine interest, and we even envy you a little."
Xi also praised Putin's leadership, noting he had chosen to make Russia his visit after being proclaimed president for an unprecedented third term.
Putin said the two would discuss a peace initiative that China put forward last month. Putin said he had "acquainted himself in detail" with the proposal, praising it for following the "principles of fairness." The two met for 4.5 hours afterward, sharing a dinner together, according to Putin's spokesman, ahead of formal talks on Tuesday.
China has sought to present itself as neutral, but in reality has provided Russia with an economic lifeline amid Western sanctions and helped it source sanctioned components, such as semiconductors, for its war machine. The 12-point peace proposal China published follows the Kremlin's narrative of the war and calls for an immediate cease-fire, without demanding Russia withdraw its troops.
The Biden administration on Monday said such a cease-fire would "would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest," by freezing the conflict and allowing the Kremlin to keep the territory it has seized from Ukraine, while giving Russia time to regroup for a fresh attack.
"It would recognize Russia's attempts to seize a sovereign neighbor's territory by force. A ceasefire now, without a durable solution, would allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.
Any plan that does not prioritize Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity "is a stalling tactic at best, or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome," Blinken said. "The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been careful not to criticize the Chinese proposal, but his senior advisers have repeatedly warned that they believe a cease-fire that doesn't call for Russia to withdraw its forces is a trap designed to favor the Kremlin. Xi is expected to have a call with Zelensky following his meeting with Putin, the first since the war started.
Xi did not mention Ukraine in his remarks with Putin Monday, but in an article published under his name in Russian state media, Xi touted the plan, claiming it reflected the consensus views of the international community.
China's peace proposal is a "fig leaf," Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, told ABC News. The plan is intended to give Xi diplomatic cover for his visit to Moscow, allowing him to present China as a responsible power to countries in the Global South and counter criticism that it's abetting Putin in the war, Gabuev said.
Xi's visit underscored how strongly China views Russia as a partner for its long-term goal of challenging the United States' dominance in the international order, a point driven home by Xi's warm words for Putin just days after the ICC war crimes indictment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said ICC officials should "respect the jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the head of state in accordance with international law," and that the court should attempt to avoid "politicization and double standards."
Xi is staying at the Soluxe Hotel in northern Moscow. Formal talks between the presidents' delegations are scheduled to be held Tuesday, as well as a state dinner, according to the Kremlin.
Western countries have warned that China may be considering supplying Russia with lethal aid, such as weapons and ammunition, going beyond the assistance it has already provided. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday said the U.S. did not believe China has decided yet to send weapons, saying U.S. officials had reiterated warnings to Chinese officials that it would "not be in their best interest" to do so.
China has denied it is planning to send weapons. Experts say that while aid such as artillery ammunition and attack drones would be highly valued by the Kremlin, the economic support and components already being supplied by China are significant in allowing Russia to continue its war.
ABC News' Joe Simonetti and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this story.