Xi holds first talks with Zelenskyy since Russian invasion

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin following their recent talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia [Sputnik/Vladimir Astapkovich/Kremlin via Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy describes the talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping as ‘long and meaningful’.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, and Beijing said it wanted to send an envoy to Kyiv to serve as a mediator to pursue a “political settlement”.

The phone call on Wednesday lasted nearly an hour and was “long and meaningful”, according to the Ukrainian president.

“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

The first known wartime phone call between the two leaders comes after Xi and Zelenskyy both said they were willing to speak to each other following Xi’s visit to Moscow in March.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said Beijing’s “core stance is to facilitate talks for peace” and announced that an envoy – a former ambassador to Russia – would visit Ukraine to seek a “political settlement”.

The statement struck a positive tone, giving a nod to Kyiv’s insistence that its territory cannot be broken up by Russia’s annexations and making clear that Beijing values its long-standing ties with Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commended China’s approach but slammed Ukraine’s stance.

While Zakharova praised Beijing’s “readiness to strive to establish a [peace] negotiations process,” she said Kyiv rejected “any sound initiatives aimed at a settlement”.

The US White House also welcomed the phone call between the two leaders but said it would be too soon to tell if it would lead to a peace deal.

“That’s a good thing,” United States national security spokesperson John Kirby said about the call.

“Now, whether that’s going to lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement, or plan, or proposal, I just don’t think we know that right now.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia in March 2023 [Sergei Karpukhin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]

Mediator aspirations

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kyiv, said the phone call was “hugely significant”.

“There’s been a lot of detail in a statement released by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Stratford said.

“President Xi commended President Zelenskyy for his want for bilateral relations. The real emphasis, though, is on the war … and China’s core stance is to facilitate a peaceful solution.”

China says it is positioned to help mediate the conflict because it has not taken sides.

“What China has done to help resolve the Ukraine crisis has been above board,” said Yu Jun, deputy head of the foreign ministry’s Eurasian department.

Western countries say China’s 12-point peace plan in proposal is too vague, offers no concrete path out of the war, and could be used by Putin to promote a truce that would leave his forces in control of occupied territory while they regroup.

Earlier this week, European countries raised alarm after China’s ambassador to France said states such as Ukraine that won independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union “don’t have actual status in international law”.

Beijing said its position on the independence of ex-Soviet states was unchanged.



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