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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10:07 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

German soldier transport vehicles are on the way to Ukraine, defense minister says

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

A delivery of German Marder infantry fighting vehicles is on its way to Ukraine, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on the sidelines of an EU Foreign and Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday. 

Germany announced in January it would provide Ukraine with 40 of the Marder vehicles. Later that month, it said Ukrainian soldiers had arrived in Germany for training on the vehicles.

More on the vehicles: The Marder is designed to move soldiers around the battlefield. It has been used by the German military since the early 1970s but continuously upgraded. The German military is in the process of phasing it out, but hundreds are still in service.

10:52 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Putin welcomes Xi to the Kremlin and says leaders will discuss China’s proposals on Ukraine

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 20.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 20. (VGTRK)

In remarks at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“In the last few years, China has made a colossal leap forward,” Putin told Xi, sitting beside him. “In the whole world, this evokes interest, and unfortunately even envy.”

He continued, “Symbolically, we met here 10 years during your first visit as an elected representative of China. In this time, we made progress in relations. We have many common interests and goals.”

Putin also told Xi that Russia is ready to discuss Beijing's proposals for resolving the crisis in Ukraine, saying that Moscow has "studied closely" the proposals.

"Of course, we will have an opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that you are based on the principles of justice and commitment to the fundamental points of international law,” Putin said. 

“You are also aware that we are always open to the negotiation process. We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiative,” he added.

Putin also said that he respects China’s balanced approach to the issue.

More on Beijing's proposal: Western leaders have expressed skepticism about China’s potential role as a peacemaker and its claimed neutrality. The United States and its allies have instead since last month warned that China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia for its war effort, which Beijing has denied.

Watch the moment here:

9:49 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Xi and Putin meeting is underway in Moscow

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is meeting with President Vladimir Putin now, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

9:01 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

White House watching Xi and Putin meeting "very, very closely" as it warns against potential ceasefire calls

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The Biden administration said it is watching China’s President Xi Jinping’s trip to Moscow “very, very closely” as top officials express concerns about any calls for a ceasefire at this time.

“A ceasefire called right now would basically just ratify Russia's conquest and give Mr. Putin more time to really equip and retrain and restart operations at a time and a place of his choosing,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told Kaitlan Collins during an appearance on “CNN This Morning.”

He said the US would “reject” any calls for a ceasefire out of the high-stakes meeting as he reiterated that it would not be “in China’s best interest” to provide arms to Ukraine.

The Russia-China relationship, Kirby said, is “a marriage of convenience, not of affection.”

“These are two countries that don't have a heck of a whole lot of trust between one another, but they find common cause in pushing back on the West, in pushing back on American leadership,” he said.

Kirby said the US has not seen any confirmation of a call between Xi and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, but encouraged a discussion.

“If you're going to go to Moscow, and you're going to sit down for three days with President Putin, and you're going to get his perspective on a war that he started, and that he could finish today. You ought to pick up the phone at the very least, and talk to President Zelensky and get the Ukrainian perspective here,” he said.

Kirby downplayed Putin’s weekend trip to Mariupol, Ukraine, noting it was “far away from the front lines of the fighting” in Ukraine.

“It was a convenient excuse for him to go in advance of Xi's visit to show that he's still the commander-in-chief, that he's still in charge, and that his military still has occupied territory inside Ukraine. There's no doubt that, that he could see for himself — or we would hope that he would see for himself — how badly his military is actually doing where the fighting is actually occurring,” he said.

8:58 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Ukrainian town of Avdiivka could become another Bakhmut, military says

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Tim Lister

An eldery woman stands in front of a destroyed apartment building in the city of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on March 18.
An eldery woman stands in front of a destroyed apartment building in the city of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on March 18. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces continue efforts to cut off the town of Avdiivka — north of the city of Donetsk — and it may soon become "a second Bakhmut," the Ukrainian military says.

"The enemy is constantly trying to surround the town of Avdiivka. I agree with my colleagues from the UK that Avdiivka may soon become a second Bakhmut — it is true," Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, a military spokesperson, told Ukrainian television Monday. But he added that Russia is "suffering quite serious losses," claiming that it is using "the last of its reserves."

"Over the past day, the enemy lost about three companies/rotas of personnel. All of these attacks are the same type. The enemy attacks from the same position, very predictably. So our guys manage to defend their positions," he said.

Earlier Monday, the UK Defense Ministry said the Russian operation around Avdiivka near the city of Donetsk has made "creeping gains," adding that 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."

There are about 2,000 civilians remaining in Avdiivka, according to Ukrainian officials. Several children had been evacuated, and over the past three weeks alone, 150 people had left the town, Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka Civil-Military Administration, told local TV channel Espresso.

8:25 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Ukraine says any Chinese peace plan must begin with Russian withdrawal

From Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov gives an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 27.
Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov gives an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 27. (Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

As Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow, Ukraine has reiterated that any future peace plan must be predicated on the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory.

China last month called for both sides to agree to a cessation of hostilities in a 12-point position paper outlining a "political settlement of the Ukraine crisis," which it issued on the one-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale war.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said Monday that the formula for the successful implementation of China's "peace plan" would require Moscow to restore Ukraine's "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."

"The first and foremost point is the surrender or withdrawal of Russian occupation forces from the territory of Ukraine in accordance with international law and the UN Charter," Danilov said on Twitter.

Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesperson for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, told CNN that "Ukraine is following closely the Chinese President’s visit to Russia. We expect Beijing to use its influence on Moscow to make it put an end to the aggressive war against Ukraine."

Nikolenko added: "As Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stressed in a phone call with his Chinese counterpart last week, restoring territorial integrity of Ukraine should be at the core of every diplomatic effort. We stand ready to engage in a closer dialogue with China in order to restore peace in Ukraine in accordance with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, and the latest UNGA resolution on this matter."

More on China's "peace plan": In Beijing's 12-point document, China's Foreign Ministry called for a resumption of peace talks, an end to unilateral sanctions, and stressed its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons — a stance Xi communicated to Western leaders last year.

The plan is part of Beijing's latest efforts to present itself as a neutral peace broker, as it struggles to balance its "no-limits" relationship with Moscow and fraying ties with the West as the war drags on.

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.

CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.

8:28 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Ukraine confiscates assets alleged to belong to Russian oligarch

From Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

Arkady Rotenberg at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 6, 2019.
Arkady Rotenberg at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 6, 2019. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said an anti-corruption court has confirmed the confiscation of assets in Ukraine found to belong to a prominent Russian oligarch.

The SBU said that the Anti-Corruption Court upheld the Ministry of Justice's decision to transfer shares in a shopping mall that had belonged to Russian oligarch Arkady Rotenberg to the Ukraine state. It said the value of the seized assets was $300 million.

"It was established that Rotenberg is a member of the inner circle of the highest military and political leadership of Russia and was directly involved in the construction of the so-called 'Crimean Bridge,'" the SBU said.

It also claimed that Rotenburg — a prominent Russian businessman with interests in energy and construction — managed shares in the Kyiv shopping center "through controlled commercial entities in Ukraine and abroad."

Rotenberg controlled two-thirds of the mall shares through nominal Swiss owners, according to the Ministry of Justice.

5:20 p.m. ET, March 20, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv, here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has touched down in Moscow for his first visit to Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has cast the visit as a "journey of peace," and the meeting between Xi and Putin is being closely watched by Kyiv and its Western allies.

The trip comes a day after a defiant Putin was seen visiting the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, in what appeared to be a direct rebuke of the International Criminal Court, which has accused Putin of war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest.

If you're just now catching up, here's what you need to know:

  • Xi Jinping in Moscow: For the Chinese leader, his high-profile state visit to Russia and meeting with 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.
  • China's "peace plan" for Ukraine: In an article published in Russian state media, Xi tried to pitch China as a peacemaker in Ukraine, crediting Beijing as "constructive in mitigating the spillovers of the crisis and facilitating its political settlement." 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. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Putin and Xi planned to discuss Beijing's peace proposal.
  • Ukraine urges Russia's withdrawal: Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, reiterated on Monday that any future peace devised by China must be predicated on the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory, and for Moscow to restore Ukraine's "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
  • Putin heckled in Mariupol: The Russian president was heckled during a surprise visit to the occupied southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday, a video released by state media shows. In the footage, which captures Putin meeting local residents, a person can be heard yelling in the background: "This is not true, it’s all for show." 
  • EU eyes joint ammunition procurement for Ukraine: The European Union's foreign policy and security chief Josep Borrell has said that he hopes the bloc will agree a joint ammunition procurement deal for Ukraine on Monday. EU defense ministers earlier this month provisionally agreed a €2 billion ($2.1 billion) plan to purchase 155-millimeter artillery shells. A final decision is expected on the sidelines of the meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels.
7:27 a.m. ET, March 20, 2023

Kremlin publishes participants in Putin-Xi meetings

From CNN's Anna Chernova

The Kremlin has published a list of participants who will be joining meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday, state news agency RIA Novosti reported, quoting Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign policy advisor.

According to the report, members will include: Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Central Bank of Russia Elvira Nabiullina, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, and director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugaev.

"Six vice-premiers, presidential aide Maxim Oreshkin, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Rosatom head Alexey Likhachev will also take part in the talks in an expanded format," RIA Novosti reported.