Russian president Vladimir Putin has lauded the Chinese president Xi Jinping’s stance over the invasion of Ukraine ahead of his visit to Russia next week.
In a statement on the Kremlin website, the Russian leader welcomed what he termed the constructive role of the Chinese during the war, and that Russia was grateful for the country’s balanced approach to the crisis.
The two countries, he added, were co-ordinating foreign policy amid what he termed increasing efforts by the United States to contain their activities.
He expected total trade volume with the Chinese to exceed €200 billion in 2023, adding that relations between the two had never been better. Mr Xi, he said, was a “good old friend” to Russia.
He added that Russia was open to a diplomatic settlement with Ukraine, but that it rejected ultimatums ahead of negotiations seeking peace.
Earlier, Mr Putin had visited the port city of Mariupol in his first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Russian state news agencies reported on Sunday that he was in Mariupol, which became a worldwide symbol of defiance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May.
On Saturday, Mr Putin travelled to Crimea, a short distance southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.
The visits came days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.
Mr Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites”, concert hall and coastline, the Russian reports said, without specifying exactly when the visit took place. They said Mr Putin also met residents in the city’s Nevskyi district.
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Speaking to the state RIA agency on Sunday, Russian deputy prime minister Marat Khusnulin made clear that Russia is in Mariupol to stay.
He said the Government hopes to finish the reconstruction of its damaged city centre by the end of the year.
“People have started to return,” he said. “When they saw that reconstruction is under way, people started actively returning.”
When Moscow fully captured the city in May, an estimated 100,000 people remained out of a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.
[ ‘I went for my son’: Ukrainians pin hopes on prisoner swaps to bring soldiers home from Russia ]
Mariupol’s plight first came into focus with a Russian air strike on a maternity hospital on March 9th last year, less than two weeks after Russian troops moved into Ukraine.
A week later, about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theatre that was serving as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by the AP last spring suggested that the real death toll could be closer to 600.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in eastern Mariupol before surrendering, their dogged defence tying down Russian forces and coming to symbolise Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal, and moved on last September to officially claim four regions in Ukraine’s south and east as Russian territory, following referendums that Kyiv and the West described as a sham. — AP