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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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.

10:08 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

China's Xi set to meet Putin in first visit to Russia since invasion of Ukraine began

From CNN's Nectar Gan and Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in Brazil in 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting in Brazil in 2019. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/FILE)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is set to meet with President Vladimir Putin Monday in his first visit to Russia since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The visit will be seen as a powerful show of Beijing’s support for Moscow in Western capitals, where leaders have grown increasingly wary of the two nations’ deepening partnership as war rages in Europe.

It will also be Xi’s first foreign trip since securing an unprecedented third term as president at the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature last week.

Here's what's on the agenda: China’s Foreign Ministry said the visit will take place from Monday to Wednesday at the invitation of Putin and confirmed the war in Ukraine would be a core part of the talks.

The Kremlin released the schedule of meetings planned between Xi and Putin. The two leaders will start Monday with a one-on-one followed by an “informal lunch,” with negotiations set to take place Tuesday, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

And Yuri Ushakov, the Russian president’s adviser on international relations, said Putin and Xi will sign documents attesting to closer ties between the two nations, and plan to discuss the war in Ukraine.

“Moscow highly appreciates the balanced position of the Chinese leadership,” Ushakov told Russian state media outlet TASS. “Russia and China are satisfied with the highest level of relations that continue to develop, Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow will give them a new impetus.”

China's Foreign Ministry said the meetings will work toward ending the conflict.

“China’s proposition boils down to one sentence, which is to urge peace and promote talks,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
8:12 p.m. ET, March 19, 2023

Russian shelling kills 3 people in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Three people were killed in an attack on a residential building Sunday in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials.

The attack by Russian forces with "Grad" rockets on the village of Kamianske also wounded two others, who are now receiving medical treatment, the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration said in a Telegram post.

The Ukrainian officials emphasized the danger to civilians still living near the conflict's front lines and urged them to evacuate.

“The danger for civilians on the front line does not disappear. The enemy is not successful on the battlefield with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, so it is deliberately killing Ukrainian civilians,” the military administration said.