WASHINGTON – Ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week, the US is worried that a China-brokered peace deal for Russia and Ukraine would end the war before Ukraine can gain back its territory, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
“We have deep concerns about that because of what it actually means in terms of benefiting Russia at the expense of Ukraine,” he told reporters.
“It’s got to end in a just way in a way that respects Ukrainian prerogatives and fully respects Ukrainian sovereignty,” Kirby said.
“Quite frankly, [Kyiv is] still fighting for their sovereignty and we’re going to continue to help help them do that,” he added.
China on Friday confirmed that Xi will visit Russian President Vladimir Putin next week, weeks after Beijing issued a 12-point suggested plan to bring an end to the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of troops on each side with an immediate ceasefire.
“President Xi’s visit will be a trip for peace,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.
“China will uphold an objective and fair position on the Ukraine crisis and play a constructive role in promoting talks for peace.”
While Kirby said a peace plan “may sound good,” the US is wary that “any proposals from the PRC … would be one sided and reflect only the Russian perspective.”
Though Russia and China are not formal allies, the two struck a “no limits” partnership weeks before Putin invaded last year and Xi has never condemned the attack on Ukraine.
“If you look at their 12 point so-called ‘peace plan,’ it talks about a ceasefire,” Kirby said.
“A ceasefire now is effectively the ratification of Russian conquest and would, in effect, recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbors territory by force.
“A ceasefire at this time – while that may sound good – we do not believe would have that effect,” he added.
The Russian military now occupies a significant portion of eastern and southeastern Ukraine as fighting continues throughout the Donbas region.
They have also held Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula since its last invasion in 2014, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to liberate, as well.
Not only would Beijing’s peace plan would allow Moscow to claim all of those regions, but Kirby said its ratification is “highly unlikely” to bring about lasting peace because US officials believe Putin will not quit until he achieves his ultimate goal – capturing Kyiv.
“Russia would be free [under the Beijing plan] to use a ceasefire to only further entrench their positions in Ukraine to rebuild, refit and refresh their forces so that they can restart attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing,” Kirby said.
“We do not believe that this is a step towards a just and durable peace.”
Still, Wang claims that China will remain impartial in support of peace, noting 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 likely wouldn’t push for peace out of sheer benevolence – he may being planning use it to cast China as a world leader on the national stage, Kirby said.
“There’s a possibility they might raise this idea of a ceasefire and try to couch themselves as peacemakers and the only ones calling for the fighting to stop,” Kirby said.
“It would be it would be a classic part of the China playbook to go into a meeting like this and come out of it saying, ‘Look, we were the ones calling for an end to the fighting and nobody else is.”
“The reason why the rest of the world is not calling for that 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 to look as though their influence has, in fact, increased,” Kirby said, as Xi aims to overthrow the US as the top global superpower in the coming decades.
“When it comes to the war in Ukraine, they haven’t joined the rest of the international community supporting Mr. Zelenskyy,” he said.
“We would certainly hope that they would, but we’ll see what comes out of this meeting.”
But so far, China has not announced any intention to meet with or call Zelenskyy.
“A just, durable, sustainable peace has got to be one that is not one-sided, and that fully incorporates Ukrainian perspectives and respects the basic idea of sovereignty, Ukrainian sovereignty in this case,” he said.
Officially, Wang said Xi’s upcoming visit is a “trip for friendship,” meant to “cement the political foundation and public support for the long-standing friendship between the two peoples.”
But even that worries some defense experts sharply watching the burgeoning relationship, especially as Russia has been forced to rely almost exclusively on other US adversaries after most of the world isolated the country when it invaded Ukraine.
“It is very concerning anytime we see adversaries working together,” head of US Central Command Gen. Michael Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, noting that Iran “shipped hundreds of their advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to the Ukraine.”
Iran also last year sent troops to Crimea to train Russian soldiers on the drones, while North Korea secretly supplied Russia with artillery shells, the White House said in November.
With both North Korea and Iran having sent Russia military support since the war broke out, China remains the only major US adversary not to have supplied Moscow with weapons for its war on Ukraine.