Putin arrives in China, as UNSC rebuffs Kremlin's peace deal to Israel war

Putin arrives in China, as UNSC rebuffs Kremlin's peace deal to  Israel war
Putin took his second trip abroad since the ICC issued an arrest warrant, as the Kremlin weighs into trying to broker peace in the Israeli war / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin October 17, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in China on October 17 for a two day visit, his second trip abroad since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March kidnapping Ukrainian children. Before leaving he also held a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russia proposed a peace deal to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that was vetoed by the Western members.

Putin is in Beijing to celebrate ten years of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in an event being attended by most of the countries along its route that runs from Asia to Europe, with leaders from, tentatively, 23 other countries. He will also hold bilateral meetings with the presidents of Vietnam, Mongolia and Laos and the prime minister of Thailand.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov already arrived for the forum on October 16 and met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

"We consider this movement, this project as an important part of promoting cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit throughout the Eurasian continent," he said after the meeting.

Lavrov and Wang discussed resolving the Ukraine war with "political and diplomatic methods," and also talked about the growing conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. LAvrov will travel on to a two-day visit to North Korea. 

Putin’s trip is significant as it highlights the increasingly close ties between Moscow and Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping came out strongly in support for Russia with a trip to Moscow in March that was also a direct challenge to the US’ claim to be the de facto leader of the free world and represented a scaling up of the rivalry between the two superpowers.

The BRI is also seen as a challenge to the US-led hegemony as it provides an overland logistical link between Asia and Europe that relieves the necessity of shipborne transport on oceans largely controlled by the US navy.

Putin’s first day is dedicated mostly to bilateral meetings with his counterparts from other countries who are also taking part in the conference, including the presidents of Vietnam and Mongolia.

A key focus for Russia is to integrate the work of the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EUU) and China’s expansion of influence in Eurasia, with a special focus on deepening relations with Mongolia and building a gas pipeline link between Russia and China that runs over Mongolian territory.

Putin talks to Netanyahu

Putin trip to China comes as diplomacy has come to the fore as world powers scramble to react to the war that has broken out in the Middle East.

Putin held his first telephone conversation with Israeli’s Netanyahu since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. He declared that "no further escalation" between Israel and Hamas militants will be allowed.

Israel and Russia have a complicated, but good working relationship thanks to Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East that has been revived under the Putin regime. In particular, Moscow good ties with Tehran and Damascus, both sworn enemies of Israel, are important.

Immediately following the Hamas attacks Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an end to the fighting, but specifically said any resolution must also contain a separate state for Palestine.

Putin announced on October 16 that Russia is taking steps to "facilitate the normalisation of the situation and prevent further escalation" between Israel and Hamas militants.

Earlier, Putin held telephone conversations with the leaders of Iran, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, where the Kremlin enjoys warm relations with all of them putting the Kremlin in a strong position to mediate in this conflict.

In addition, Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the Israelis killed, condemning "any actions that victimise civilians, especially women and children".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been touring the Middle East in the last days trying to thrash out a coordinated response to Hamas attacks and limit the fallout from Israel’s brutal response on Gaza, which has killed some 2,000 civilians in the last week.

Blinken announced on October 16 that a deal has been reached to provide humanitarian aid to residents of Gaza that have been cut off from fuel, power, food and water in what is being called a “siege” of Gaza that has been widely criticized as a war crime. US President Joe Biden also announced that he will travel to Israel and Jordan this week in a show of solidarity for Israel and to further a peace settlement.

UNSC vetos Russian ME peace proposal

One the same day, Russia proposed a peace deal at a meeting of the UNSC, which was rejected by the Western powers on the council.

Russia proposed a resolution on the conflict between Israel and Palestine calling for ceasefire, but one that did not specifically blame Hamas for the conflict.

The five votes cast for the proposal by Russia, China, UAE, Gabon and Mozambique were insufficient for it to pass, with the UK, the US, France and Japan voting against, and Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, Malta, Switzerland, Ecuador abstaining.

Following the vote, Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya described the Security Council as a "hostage to ambitions of Western countries."

"This is the only reason why it failed to send a clear and strong collective signal aimed at deescalating the situation," the diplomat said.

According to US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US voted against the proposed resolution because it failed to condemn Hamas. Nebenzya told reporters before the vote that Russian proposal didn’t mention the radical group because Moscow focused on humanitarian issues.

Business ties

A wide range of Russian officials and businessmen will accompany Putin to China. Energy ties are expected to feature high on the agenda.

The Russian delegation will comprise Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Central Bank Chairwoman Elvira Nabiullina, deputy prime ministers Alexander Novak and Dmitry Chernyshenko, and Far East and Arctic Development Minister Alexei Chekunkov, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, presidential aide Maxim Oreshkin, and other officials.

The list of businessmen who will accompany the officials includes Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozyorov, Sberbank CEO German Gref, VTB Bank CEO Andrei Kostin, Rosatom CEO Alexei Likhachyov, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, Novatek CEO Leonid Mikhelson, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, VEB.RF CEO Igor Shuvalov, RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev, and tycoon Gennady Timchenko, Ushakov said.

Putin is also slated to meet with Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh during the visit to discuss the situation in the world and joint natural gas and transportprojects with China.

In January–August, trade between Russia and China gained 24.3% to $141.5bn, meaning the goal of driving the turnover to $200bn may be achieved already this year, he said.

China had signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and more than 30 international organizations, the foreign ministry said.

Italy, the only G7 country to sign up, has criticised the 2019 decision by a previous government to join the BRI scheme, with its foreign minister recently saying trade between Italy and China had not improved.  

The highest-level European leader attending this week's summit is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.