ON A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president invited his powerful Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to visit his nation, saying they haven’t been in contact since the war began and he is “ready to see him here.”
“I want to speak with him,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Associated Press on Tuesday, the week after Xi visited Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. China had no immediate response about whether a Xi visit to Ukraine would happen.
China has been economically aligned and politically favorable toward neighboring Russia across many decades, and Beijing has provided Putin diplomatic cover by staking out an official position of neutrality in the war. Xi, a powerful leader who commands the resources of the world’s most populous nation, is an important player in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and even China’s lack of involvement is a potent statement.
Zelenskyy spoke to the AP aboard a train shuttling him across Ukraine, to cities near some of the fiercest fighting and others where his country’s forces have successfully repelled Russia’s invasion. Zelenskyy rarely travels with journalists, and the president’s office said AP’s two night train trip with him was the most extensive since the war began.
Zelenskyy has extended invitations to Xi before in recent months, but this explicit call to visit comes days after the Chinese leader visited Putin in Russia last week. But the Ukrainian leader said he hasn’t communicated with Xi for the duration of the conflict.
“We are ready to see him here,” Zelenskyy said. “I had contact with him before full-scale war. But during all this year, more than one year, I didn’t have.”
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning was asked whether Xi would accept an invitation from Zelenskyy — or whether one had been officially extended. She told reporters she had no information to give. She did say that Beijing maintains “communication with all parties concerned, including Ukraine.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked whether a meeting between Xi and Zelenskyy would be useful to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, said Russian authorities “highly appreciate” China’s balanced position on the issue and “have no right to come up with any advice” on whether the two should meet. “The Chinese leader himself decides the appropriateness of certain contacts,” Peskov said during his daily conference call with reporters Wednesday.
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States supports talks between Xi and Zelenskyy, “and my goodness, we’ve been saying that for weeks.”
Xi’s Russia visit last week raised the prospect that Beijing might be ready to provide Moscow with the weapons and ammunition it needs to refill its depleted stockpile. But Xi’s trip ended without any such announcement. Days later, Putin announced that he would be deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which neighbors Russia and pushes the Kremlin’s nuclear stockpile closer to NATO territory.
Zelenskyy suggested Putin’s move was intended to distract from the lack of guarantees he received from China.
“What does it mean? It means that the visit was not good for Russia,” Zelenskyy speculated.
Julie Pace is senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press. Hanna Arhirova is a Ukraine-based AP correspondent. Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine