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Zelensky wants China at Ukraine peace talks, cites ‘influence on Russia’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he wants to work with countries like China with “influence on Russia” as his country faces a renewed Moscow offensive, urging Beijing to attend peace talks next month.

Zelensky said Chinese leader Xi Jinping assured him in a phone call that Beijing supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity – though he did not say when the exchange happened.

He was speaking in an interview with news agency AFP aired on Friday, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to China, during which the two countries pledged deeper strategic cooperation.

Beijing has never condemned Russia’s February 2022 invasion, instead claiming neutrality in the conflict, having released a vaguely articulated 12-point position on its resolution. Ahead of expected peace talks in Switzerland next month, Xi has called for negotiations that take both sides’ positions into account.

Engaging global players like China is crucial because “they have influence on Russia, and the more such countries we have on our side… the more Russia will have to move and [more countries] to reckon with,” Zelensky said.

Noting the assurances he says Xi gave him over the phone about territorial integrity, he added: “They support, but what they will do, we are yet to see.” The only known phone call between Zelensky and the Chinese leader was in April last year.

Zelensky said he would like to see China at the international talks in Switzerland next month, aimed at paving the way for a peace process in Ukraine. The summit has drawn delegations from more than 50 countries so far, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing Swiss President Viola Amherd.

China has not committed to the event, though its ambassador to Switzerland Wang Shihting said in March that Beijing was considering participating.

Russia has not been represented at any of the four rounds of closed-door international peace talks that have taken place so far, and will not be at this one. China has attended one, hosted by its increasingly close strategic partner Saudi Arabia.

During a recent six-day trip to Europe, Xi pushed back against allegations that his country has been supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying China “oppose[s] using the Ukraine crisis to shed responsibility or defame a third country and provoke a new Cold War.”

But he joined French President Emmanuel Macron in calling for a global Olympic truce, which would see a pause in fighting in all conflicts during the upcoming Summer Games in Paris.

Zelensky, however, expressed skepticism about the ceasefire proposal, citing inadequate guarantees against Russian advances.

“Even if we imagine that there is some kind of Olympic truce for two weeks and everyone is standing still, tell me, I told Emmanuel, who can guarantee that Russia will not use this time to bring its forces to our territory,” Zelensky told AFP.

“There is a risk that while we are not fighting them back and not stopping them with artillery fire, even (in the areas) where they are advancing, there is a risk of them bringing more heavy military equipment to our territory.”

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