March 20, 2023 - Xi and Putin meet in Moscow as Russia's war in Ukraine continues

By Kathleen Magramo, Eliza Mackintosh, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Leinz Vales and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, March 21, 2023
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7:02 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Kremlin says Putin and Xi will discuss peace in Ukraine

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, is in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, is in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. (Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the topic of Ukraine peace with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Moscow, the Kremlin said Monday.

"One way or another, the topics which are touched upon in [Beijing’s peace] plan, of course, will inevitably be touched upon during the exchange of views on Ukraine [between Putin and Xi]," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Of course, exhaustive explanations will be given by President Putin, so that [Chinese] President Xi Jinping can get a first-hand view of the current situation from the Russian side," he added.

Putin and Xi are expected to have an "informal but very important" meeting Monday afternoon Moscow time, according to Peskov.

"The heads of state will raise the most pressing issues at their discretion," he added.

Xi is expected to meet with Putin after 4:30 p.m. local time (9.30 a.m. ET) Monday.

8:49 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow

Chinese President Xi Jinping disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia, on March 20.
Chinese President Xi Jinping disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia, on March 20. (Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik/AP)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has landed in Moscow for a three-day visit where he will meet with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. 

It is the first time China’s leader has visited his neighbor and close ally since Russia launched its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Watch the moment here:

4:41 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Russian missiles hit Donetsk cities overnight, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Svitlana Vlasova

Ukrainian officials on Monday said there have been further Russian strikes on towns and cities in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Russian forces launched a missile attack on Kramatorsk overnight that damaged properties, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration.

One person was wounded in Kostantynivka, and three multi-story buildings were damaged.

Kostantynivka and Kramatorsk lie a few miles west of the heavy fighting in the Bakhmut area. Fierce fighting continues to the west and northwest of Bakhmut, with Russian forces and members of the Wagner paramilitary group trying to cut off access to the city.

Kyrylenko said the town of Avdiivka came under artillery and "Grad" rocket fire that caused unspecified damage.

UK briefing: While there has been little movement on much of the front line, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence said the Russian operation around Avdiivka had made "creeping gains."

The UK ministry said the Russian attack has been "largely" carried out by the 1st Army Corps of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, made up of "local personnel who will know the terrain well."

"Avdiivka has been on the front line of the Donbas conflict since 2014; the city is now largely destroyed," the UK ministry tweeted. "The sprawling Avdiivka Coke Plant complex is likely to be seen as particularly defendable key terrain as the battle progresses."
4:34 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

China says ICC should "avoid politicization and double standards" following Putin arrest warrant

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau and Hannah Ritchie

The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands, July 30, 2016.
The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands, July 30, 2016. (Michel Porro/Getty Images)

China's Foreign Ministry on Monday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take an "impartial stance" and "avoid politicization and double standards," after it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes.

"The International Criminal Court should uphold an objective and impartial stance, respect the jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the head of state in accordance with international law, exercise its functions and powers prudently by the law, interpret and apply international law in good faith, and avoid politicization and double standards," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters during a regular briefing.

The ICC issued arrest warrants on Friday for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia — a practice the Russian government has defended as saving them while denying that the deportations are forced.

The move has already made history by making Putin the first head of state of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to be issued with an arrest warrant.

The charges are also the first to be formally lodged against officials in Moscow since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last year.

The Kremlin on Friday rejected the arrest warrants as “unacceptable,” arguing that it is not subject to the ICC’s decisions.

7:02 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Analysis: Xi makes "journey of friendship" to Moscow days after Putin's war crime warrant issued

From CNN's Nectar Gan in Hong Kong

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin pose for pictures in Beijing on February 4, 2022. 
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin pose for pictures in Beijing on February 4, 2022.  (Li Tao/Xinhua/Getty Images)

For Chinese leader Xi Jinping, his high-profile state visit to Russia and meeting with President Vladimir Putin this week is a timely opportunity to showcase China’s growing diplomatic clout on the world stage and its ambition to challenge the US-led global order.

But in many Western capitals the optics of the visit will look very different — two autocrats who have long described themselves as firm friends shaking hands and banqueting while a conflagration in Europe rages.

Beijing has cast the visit as a “journey of peace,” where Xi is supposed to “play a constructive role in promoting peace talks” over the war in Ukraine.

And it comes just days after China scored a major diplomatic victory by brokering a surprise rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, helping the two archrivals restore diplomatic ties.

Yet hours after the announcement of Xi’s trip on Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of war crimes over Moscow’s forcible deportation of Ukrainian children.

China’s top leader will now be dining with a suspected war criminal whom he has called a “best friend,” and affirming his “no limits” partnership with a global pariah whose brutal invasion has killed tens of thousands of people and wreaked havoc on the global economy.

For the United States and much of Europe, Xi’s visit is a stark show of support for the increasingly isolated Putin, at a time when his military is running out of supplies and Russia’s economy is struggling under Western sanctions.

In recent weeks, Western officials have voiced concerns that China is considering providing lethal assistance to Russia’s military. Beijing has denied the allegation, and instead accused the US of prolonging the war by “adding fuel” to the battlefield and providing Ukraine with weapons.

American officials said they would be watching intently for signs that China is moving forward with providing weapons to Russia during Xi’s summit with Putin.

Ukraine is watching closely too.

“We really hope that China will not become an accomplice in this horrific war,” Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, told CNN. “It’s going to be a meeting with a person who’s officially suspected by the International Criminal Court.”

Read the full analysis here.

12:06 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Xi Jinping pitches China as Ukraine peacemaker on eve of trip to Russia

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood and Jonny Hallam

Xi Jinping delivers a speech in Beijing on March 13.
Xi Jinping delivers a speech in Beijing on March 13. (Yan Yan/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Ahead of his state visit to Russia Monday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has praised Beijing's growing ties with Moscow while also attempting to present China as peacemaker in the Ukraine war.

In an article published in Russian state media, Xi said China and Russia had “cemented political mutual trust and fostered a new model of major-country relations”.

“The bilateral relationship has grown more mature and resilient. It is brimming with new dynamism and vitality, setting a fine example for developing a new model of major-country relations featuring mutual trust, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation,” Xi wrote.

On Ukraine, Xi put China forward as a positive force for peace, crediting Beijing's approach as “constructive in mitigating the spillovers of the crisis and facilitating its political settlement.”

Xi's attempt to present China as a neutral peace broker comes as Beijing struggles to balance its "no-limits" relationship with Moscow and fraying ties with the West.

Last month, China’s Foreign Ministry released a position paper on the Ukraine war that called for a resumption of peace talks, an end to unilateral sanctions, and stressed Beijing's opposition to the use of nuclear weapons — a stance Xi communicated to Western leaders last year.

But Beijing’s claim to neutrality has been severely undermined by its refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict — it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” — and its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.

Western officials have also raised concerns that China may be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, an accusation denied by Beijing.

Putin's remarks: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday praised China for its "readiness to make a meaningful contribution to the settlement of the [Ukraine] crisis" in an article published on the Kremlin website.

The article, written for a Chinese audience and titled "Russia and China: A Future-Bound Partnership," celebrated the recent deepening of ties between the two countries.

The Russian leader also blamed Ukraine for the failure of peace talks and took aim at the NATO alliance.

"Unlike some countries claiming hegemony and bringing discord to the global harmony, Russia and China are literally and figuratively building bridges," he said.
"I am convinced that our friendship and partnership based on the strategic choice of the peoples of the two countries will further grow and gain strength for the well-being and prosperity of Russia and China."
10:27 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Biden administration skeptical of Xi's intentions ahead of his summit with Putin

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Kylie Atwood

US President Joe Biden said last week he was planning to speak “soon” with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

But before his staff even began planning for the call, another meeting was taking shape: The Chinese government announced Xi plans to travel Monday to Russia for a three-day summit with President Vladimir Putin, as Xi works to cast himself as a potential peacemaker in the Ukraine war.

In Washington, officials view Xi’s intentions with deep skepticism; China has refused to condemn the war and instead claimed Moscow was provoked into invading Ukraine. After China announced Xi’s visit to Russia by saying he was traveling “for the sake of peace,” the White House worked to preempt attempts to frame the Xi-Putin meeting as a peacemaking mission, suggesting any framework offered by Beijing would be weighted toward Russia and bad for Ukraine.

“As they begin to plan out their agenda, we certainly want to express how concerned we would be by any proposals from (China) that would … be one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective,” said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

He said such a Chinese proposal could include some type of ceasefire, which he said would merely provide a way for Russia to regroup before launching a reprisal.

“A ceasefire now is effectively the ratification of Russian conquest,” he said.

The Putin-Xi summit itself did not come as a surprise to the White House, since there have been reports such a meeting could occur for weeks. Still, there remain deep concerns the “no limits” partnership Xi and Putin have cemented during previous meetings could deepen during face-to-face talks.

And there is a growing fear that further Chinese intervention in the conflict would fundamentally change the battlefield dynamics – or at least prolong the war at a moment when political appetite in the West for supporting Ukraine is being tested.

Read more here.

9:37 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Analysis: Putin hopes to attain weapons in meeting with Chinese leader — he may find that's wishful thinking

Analysis from CNN's Jill Dougherty

 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a Flag Day ceremony in Moscow in 2021.
 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a Flag Day ceremony in Moscow in 2021. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited his international “best friend,” China’s leader Xi Jinping, to Moscow for a three-day state visit beginning Monday.

There’s sure to be plenty of glad-handing, champagne toasts, a major press conference and — behind closed doors — serious discussion.

For Xi, it’s a high-profile trip: his first state visit to any country since being appointed to an unprecedented third term in office. Kremlin officials say the two leaders will be signing “important documents” that will “deepen relations” and solidify economic cooperation. But for both men, this trip is much more than just another chapter in what they both describe as a “no limits” friendship.

For Putin, it’s a welcome show of support from his biggest ally after a year of military failure to attain his so-called goal of “de-Nazifying and de-militarizing” Ukraine. Putin’s army is burning through military hardware, ammunition — and men.

He has reached out to North Korea and Iran for weapons and drones, but getting more weapons, ammunition and perhaps drones from China would be a major victory for the Russian president.

However, that could be a hard sell.

Read the full analysis here.

8:06 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Putin's visit is like a serial killer returning to scene of the crime, Mariupol bombing survivor says

From CNN’s Ivan Watson and Bex Wright in Kharkiv, and Alex Hardie in London

A woman who survived last year’s bombing of a packed theater in Mariupol likened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s overnight visit to the occupied city to “when a serial killer returns to the place of the crime.”

CNN’s Ivan Watson previously spoke to Maria Kutnyakova in March last year, after she managed to escape Mariupol to Ukrainian-controlled territory with her family.

Speaking with Watson again by phone Sunday, Kutnyakova said Putin had visited Mariupol at night “because they didn’t want to shoot the real footage of the destroyed city.”

“They didn’t want to show that Mariupol is still a catastrophe. There are a lot of destroyed buildings. That people live in a bad situation,” said Kutnyakova, who now works online for a Ukrainian NGO from the safety of Vilnius, Lithuania.

“Russian propaganda showed this image of a few buildings that they built. They want to let people believe that in Mariupol now is very nice, beautiful place. But it’s not,” Kutnyakova said.

She told CNN prices in Mariupol are “crazy,” that people in the city have no medicine or heating, and that problems persist with communications, electricity, water and gas.

Kutnyakova said all 15 of her relatives and several close friends who lived in Mariupol have left the city. She said her family has been unable to locate her uncle since last spring, and they fear he may have died.

About the bombing: About 300 people died when Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, which had been functioning as a shelter for residents, according to city leaders.

The March 16, 2022, bombing was among the most brazen of Russia’s attacks on civilians in its initial offensive.

Before the attack, the word "CHILDREN" had been painted on the ground outside the building in giant Russian letters. As many as 1,300 people were sheltering inside.

Russia denied its forces hit the theater, claiming a regiment in Ukraine's army had blown it up. Moscow made similar claims — without providing evidence — about the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol that occurred about a week prior.

The southeastern city has been under Russian control since May 2022.