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Xi, Zelenskiy hold ‘long and meaningful’ Ukraine call

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have held a phone call for the first time since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

April 27, 2023
27 April 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy by telephone for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskiy immediately signalled the importance of the chance to open closer relations with Russia’s most powerful friend, naming a former cabinet minister as Ukraine’s new ambassador to China.

Describing the hour-long phone call as “long and meaningful,” Zelenskiy tweeted: “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.”

Xi told Zelenskiy that China would send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties seeking peace, Chinese state media reported.

Xi, the most powerful world leader to have refrained from denouncing Russia’s invasion, made a state visit to Moscow last month. 

Since February, he has promoted a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, greeted sceptically by the United States and its European allies but cautiously welcomed by Ukraine as a sign of Chinese interest in ending the war.

China will focus on promoting peace talks and make efforts for a ceasefire as soon as possible, Xi told Zelenskiy, according to the Chinese state media reports.

“As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible major country, we will neither sit idly by, nor pour oil on fire, still less seek to profit from it,” Xi said.

In a readout of the call on the Telegram platform, Zelenskiy said the two leaders discussed “possible co-operation to establish a just and sustainable peace for Ukraine”.

The White House welcomed the call, which it said it had no advanced knowledge of, but said it was too soon to tell whether it would lead to a peace deal.

“That’s a good thing,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

“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.”

The 14-month war is at a juncture, with Ukraine preparing to launch a counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months following a Russian winter offensive that made only incremental advances despite the bloodiest fighting so far.

There are no peace talks in sight, with Ukraine demanding Russia withdraw its troops and Russia insisting Ukraine must recognise its claims to have annexed seized territory.

“There can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises,” Zelenskiy said in his post.

“The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored within the 1991 borders.”

Ukrainian officials have long been calling on China to use its influence in Russia to help end the war.

Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “no limits” partnership agreement weeks before Putin ordered the invasion.

Following the Xi-Zelenskiy talks, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “We note the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to establish a negotiation process.”

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.

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