Aletho News


Ukraine will have to accept Chinese mediation when spring offensive fails

By Ahmed Adel | April 28, 2023

In a phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky on April 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping identified negotiations as the only way to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, something that the Ukrainian president has been resistant to.

“Dialogue and negotiation is the only possible method,” Chinese media quoted Xi as saying in his first known conversation with Zelensky since the Russian special military operation began. The Chinese president also stressed that Beijing “will persistently seek peace and synergistically promote negotiations.”

For his part, Zelensky, who for many months has expressed interest in speaking with Xi, said he had “a long and meaningful phone call” with the Chinese president that lasted for an hour. “We discussed a full range of topical issues of bilateral relations. Particular attention was paid to the ways of possible cooperation to establish a just and sustainable peace for Ukraine.”

“There can be no peace at the expense of territorial compromises,” he added, suggesting that perhaps Xi is wasting his time.

None-the-less, after the conversation with Xi, the Ukrainian president signed a decree which appointed former Minister of Strategic Industry Pavel Ryabikin as Ambassador of Ukraine to the People’s Republic of China. This insinuates that the comments from the Chinese leader did not spoil relations between the two countries.

The long absence of a Ukrainian ambassador to China does demonstrate the traditional attitude that Kiev had towards the Asian giant. Now, despite relations improving, Kiev is giving provocative ultimatums on conditions for peace talks when Beijing is searching for peace.

It is recalled that Xi made a state visit to Russia in March and met President Vladimir Putin. During the visit, Xi and Putin affirmed their alignment across many issues, such as dealing with American provocations.

In addition, the Xi-Zelensky call comes only days after the Chinese Ambassador in Paris sparked controversy by suggesting that the Baltic states had no status under international law following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, something which authorities in Kiev could have interpreted as also being aimed against them. This was ultimately rejected by Beijing though, with authorities saying that the ambassador’s comments were his own personal opinion and not official policy.

Beijing announced that China’s Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs, former Chinese Ambassador to Russia Li Hui, will lead a special delegation on crisis settlement in Ukraine. The establishment of a special Chinese delegation to resolve the crisis in Ukraine is a very important step, particularly because Li Hui is an experienced diplomat who has served as China’s ambassador to Russia for many years. On the other hand, people should not harbour any illusions as Washington will likely prevent Kiev from achieving peace with Moscow under Chinese stewardship.

For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow had taken notice of Beijing’s will to enable negotiations with Ukraine following the phone call between Zelensky and his Chinese counterpart.

“We note the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to establish the negotiation process,” Zakharova said during a press conference on April 26. She noted that negotiations under current conditions are unlikely and highlighted that Kiev is the one rejecting initiatives by Moscow.

Despite these difficult conditions, China started positioning itself as a peacemaker in the conflict in early 2023 after releasing a proposal for a discussion-based solution to the war. However, the proposal has been completely rejected by Kiev and their Western backers as it included no provision for Russia to withdraw its troops.

Xi also received criticism from the West for attempting to position himself as a mediator whilst visiting Moscow but not having spoken with Zelensky at that point. At the same time, when considering the timing of the call between the two leaders, it suggests that Xi believes there is a possibility for progress, even if Zelensky is attaching stringent demands.

With China successfully reconciling Iran and Saudi Arabia, the country’s decisionmakers also feel confident that they can tackle an even bigger challenge considering Russia and Ukraine are in direct conflict, unlike the two Middle Eastern countries.

Because Ukraine believes it can prevail against Russia on the battlefield and in the spring offensive, there should be no expectations for peace negotiations to begin soon. Evidently though, Beijing said that they are going to take concrete steps in the direction of mediation, a major step in China demonstrating that it is a Great Power with global influence. Once Ukraine’s spring offensive fails, Kiev will have no choice but to reach out to Beijing to help mediate a peace agreement.

Ahmed Adel is a Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher.

April 28, 2023 - Posted by | Militarism | , ,

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