Medvedev visits Beijing amid joint Sino-Russian naval drills
Beijing says it wants peace talks, but conducts joint military exercises with Russia. Meanwhile, Putin weighs opening another invasion front, from Belarus.
Dmitri Medvedev, the former Russian president, ex-former advocate for political and economic changes in Russia, and now uber-hawkish Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, has made a previously unannounced visit to Beijing and met with Xi Jinping. Medvedev’s meeting with Xi took place just ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s own surprise visit to Washington DC, where he met with US President Joe Biden and addressed a joint session of Congress.
Some reports of the Xi-Medvedev meeting emphasized that Xi told Medvedev that China has been “actively promoting peace and talks.” This is not a novel formulation or very significant, however, as Beijing has repeatedly offered to mediate talks, beginning (at least) as early as March 7th. Beijing’s purported offer to mediate likely rings hollow in Beijing, as Xi has still never called Zelensky after the invasion. Xi and Putin have spoken on the phone at least twice since the invasion, while the two figures met in-person at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand in September.
The symbolism of Medvedev’s visit was likely more important than the substance of anything discussed. With the war in Ukraine at an inflection point, Beijing may be leaning harder into a “pro-Russia neutrality” posture.
Russian, Belarusian forces potentially invading Ukraine from the north
Putin traveled to Minsk, Belarus on Monday to meet his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. The visit comes amid growing fears in Kyiv and other Western capitals that Russian forces, replenished with new conscripts from the draft, are planning another offensive against Ukraine in the winter. With Putin accompanied by his foreign affairs and defense chiefs on his visit to Minsk, speculation is growing that Moscow plans to launch another attack against Ukraine from Belarus (unless, of course, this is all just a feint). Whatever the case, there are serious concerns that Putin is about to escalate in Ukraine, once again.
That is the context in which the Xi-Medvedev meeting should be understood. While nominally calling for peace talks, Xi is hosting a national security official from a country that, by most accounts, is poised to escalate an ongoing invasion. Xi’s calls for peace talks are, most likely, designed to pre-emptively deflect responsibility in the event on another Russian escalation.
Chinese, Russian naval vessels hold military drills
The Chinese and Russian navies have begun a week-long joint exercise, according to Chinese state media. The drills will reportedly take place off of Zhejiang province, which is close to both Taiwan and the Senkakus Island. The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning was also spotted in the same vicinity on Sunday.
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