China's President Xi Jinping left Moscow Wednesday morning after a closely watched, highly choreographed visit that saw him stand shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Russian leader for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. In a display of unity and an apparent swipe at Western nations that have helped Ukraine fight Russia's invasion, including the U.S., the men signed a joint statement saying it was necessary to "respect legitimate security concerns of all countries."
What the world saw of Xi's long-anticipated visit was meticulous stagecraft designed to portray a counterforce to the U.S.-led NATO alliance of the West. Russia declared last year that it was building a new "democratic world order" with China, and as the two men walked toward each other down long rugs to meet in the center of an ornate, palatial hall in Moscow for a firm handshake, the signal to the rest of the world was unmistakable.
A statement released by China's government after the meeting said Xi and Putin "shared the view" that their two countries' "relationship has gone far beyond the bilateral scope and acquired critical importance for the global landscape and the future of humanity."
Their public message on Ukraine, in the joint statement and at the podiums, was a call for peace — but on the basis of a vague plan unveiled by China in February which the U.S. and its allies have dismissed and derided as a stalling tactic, as it includes no call for Russian forces to withdraw from Ukraine.
"A ceasefire right now, freezing the lines where they are, basically gives him [Putin] the time and space he needs to try to re-equip, to re-man, to make up for that resource expenditure," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said about the Chinese plan.
Xi and Putin agreed that the war should be settled through dialogue, but they proposed no framework nor detail for any new peace initiative. Xi reiterated Beijing's official stance that China is an "impartial" party to Russia's war in Ukraine.
Putin said China's plan could form the basis for a settlement, but accused Ukraine and its Western backers of keeping the war going, having decided "to fight with Russia to the last Ukrainian."
The Russian leader accused Britain of planning to send Ukraine "weapons with a nuclear component," a misleading description of depleted uranium tank shells valued for the dense metal's armor piercing ability.
But it was Russian-launched exploding drones that killed at least four people at a high school dormitory south of Kyiv early Wednesday morning, according to local officials, and it was Russian missiles that reportedly struck a residential building near a mall in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia.
Washington says Putin's military has already "blown through" many of its resources over more than a year of ceaseless shelling and airstrikes in Ukraine, and it's desperate to secure new supplies of missiles, shells and ammunition.
U.S. intelligence officials have said China is "considering the provision of lethal equipment" like that to Putin.
What Putin and Xi may have discussed and agreed to behind closed doors in Moscow, out of the view of television cameras, will remain a topic of keen interest around the world in the days ahead. After the strong show of support — but no mention of an agreement for China to supply weapons or other lethal aid — Xi left Russia.
As the world powers talked around Ukraine, inside the war-torn country, President Volodymyr Zelensky paid respects to fallen soldiers as the Ukrainian people continued to bear the brunt of Russia's daily onslaught.
"It's very scary, because people die every day," Lilya, who lives in the liberated southern city of Kherson, told CBS News. Russia has increased shelling of the town it held up until November, but despite the threat, Lilya said she and other defiant residents were confident Ukraine's forces could prevent the invaders from returning.
"We will not leave the city, it is our city, it is our Ukraine," she said. "We are staying here. We have no choice. We live here. The shelling is happening all over Ukraine, and nobody knows what will happen to them as they try to go about their lives… We pray for Ukraine. We ask God to save the city. [We ask] for fewer deaths."