Xi-Putin meeting: China’s Xi stresses close ties with ‘dear friend’ Putin during

(CNN) Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have met at the Kremlin and touted the close ties and strategic visions shared by China and Russia, on the first day of a state visit framed by Beijing as a peacemaking project despite deep skepticism in Kyiv and the West.

Xi is making his first since Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last year, just days after the International Criminal Court in the Hague accused the Russian president of committing war crimes in Ukraine and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Ukraine is expected to be a key point of discussion throughout Xi’s visit, which will be closely watched for any potential impact on an entrenched conflict that has killed tens of thousands and triggered a mass humanitarian crisis.

“In the last few years, China has made a colossal leap forward,” Putin told Xi, sitting side by side with him at the Kremlin on Monday afternoon. “In the whole world, this evokes interest, and unfortunately even envy.”

Xi called Putin his “dear friend” and said “Russia’s development has significantly improved under your leadership.”

China has billed the trip a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” amid a push from Beijing to frame itself as a key proponent for the resolution of the conflict. But Xi’s trip is likely to be seen in some Western capitals as a ringing endorsement of the Russian leader in the face of broad international condemnation of his war.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said the visit showed China’s intent to provide “diplomatic cover” for alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

“That President Xi is traveling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” said Blinken at a news conference at the US State Department on the release of the 2022 Human Rights Report.

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