March 17, 2023 | 5:21 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week, the United States fears a China-brokered peace deal for Russia and Ukraine could end the war before Ukraine can reclaim its territory, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
“We have deep concerns about this because of what it really means in terms of benefiting Russia at the expense of Ukraine,” he told reporters.
“It must end in a fair way, in a way that respects Ukrainian prerogatives and fully respects Ukrainian sovereignty,” Kirby said.
“Frankly, [Kyiv is] are still fighting for their sovereignty and we will continue to help them do so,” he added.
China confirmed on Friday that Xi will visit Russian President Vladimir Putin next week, weeks after Beijing released a suggested 12-point plan to end the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers on each side with an immediate ceasefire.
“President Xi’s visit will be a journey for peace,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.
“China will maintain an objective and fair stance on the Ukraine crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”
While Kirby said a peace plan “may sound good,” the United States is wary that “any PRC proposal…would be one-sided and only reflect the Russian perspective.”
Although Russia and China are not formal allies, the two forged a ‘limitless’ partnership weeks before Putin’s invasion last year and Xi never condemned the attack on Ukraine. .
“If you look at their so-called 12-point ‘peace plan,’ it talks about a ceasefire,” Kirby said.
“A ceasefire is now effectively the ratification of the Russian conquest and would, in effect, recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer territory from its neighbors by force.
“A ceasefire right now – although it may sound good – we don’t think it would have that effect,” he added.
The Russian army now occupies a significant part of eastern and southeastern Ukraine as fighting continues across the Donbass region.
They have also held Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula since its last invasion in 2014, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also pledged to liberate.
Not only would Beijing’s peace plan allow Moscow to claim all those areas, but Kirby said its ratification was “highly unlikely” to bring lasting peace because US officials believe Putin will not step down until he does. will not have achieved its ultimate goal – to capture Kiev.
“Russia would be free [under the Beijing plan] to use a ceasefire to further consolidate their positions in Ukraine in order to rebuild, refit and refresh their forces so that they can reinitiate 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 says China will remain impartial in favor of peace, noting that Xi “will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on… major international and regional issues.”
But even if that’s true, Xi probably wouldn’t be pushing for peace out of pure benevolence — he may be planning to use it to make China a world leader on the national stage, Kirby said.
“It’s possible that they’re raising this idea of a ceasefire and trying to portray themselves as peacemakers and the only ones calling for an end to the fighting,” Kirby said.
“It would be a classic piece of China’s playbook to walk into a meeting like this and come out of it saying, ‘Look, we were the ones calling for an end to the fighting and no one else the fact.
“The reason the rest of the world is not asking for this right now is because, as I said, it would effectively ratify Russia’s geographic gains inside Ukraine and it would put [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy at a distinct disadvantage.
China’s effort could also “be part of their attempts to increase their influence and give the impression that their influence has, in fact, increased”, Kirby said, as Xi aims to topple the United States as as the world’s leading superpower in the decades to come.
“As far as the war in Ukraine is concerned, they have not joined the rest of the international community in supporting Mr. Zelenskyy,” he said.
“We would certainly hope they would, but we’ll see what comes out of this meeting.”
But so far, China has not announced any intention to meet or call Zelenskyy.
“A just, lasting and lasting peace must be a peace that is not unilateral, that fully integrates Ukrainian perspectives and respects the fundamental idea of sovereignty, Ukrainian sovereignty in this case,” he said.
Officially, Wang said Xi’s upcoming visit was a “friendship trip”, meant to “cement the political foundations and public support for the long-standing friendship between the two peoples”.
But even that worries some defense experts who are watching the budding relationship closely, especially since Russia was forced to rely almost exclusively on other US adversaries after most of the world isolated the country. when it invaded Ukraine.
“It’s very concerning every time we see adversaries working together,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, noting that Iran “has shipped hundreds of its advanced unmanned aerial vehicles in 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 North Korea and Iran having sent military support to Russia since the start of the war, China remains the only major adversary of the United States that has not supplied Moscow with weapons for its war against Ukraine. .