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China's President Xi Jinping is in Moscow for a 3-day state visit with Russia's Putin

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russia's Vladimir Putin has a visitor today.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He's one of Putin's few friends, outside of Russia, and he's dropping by. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow and will spend three days there, where the two leaders will surely discuss the war in Ukraine.

FADEL: Yeah. Joining us to talk about it all is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So this is President Xi's first trip abroad since being elected to a third term. Why Moscow, and why now?

MAYNES: You know, state visits don't come together overnight. This trip was long in the works and aimed at deepening a relationship that the two leaders already said had no limits when they met in Beijing in January of last year. But that, of course, was before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. And that's injected friction into the relationship. You know, on the one hand, China has not condemned Russia's actions. It hasn't joined Western sanctions, and it's given cover to Russian arguments that the war was provoked by the West. On the other, China isn't happy about what the war has done to the global economy. It projects itself as neutral on the Ukraine issue, even floating a peace plan, but one that chides Russia for nuclear saber rattling and calls for respecting territorial integrity. And Beijing has billed Xi's visit as a peace mission around those terms.

FADEL: Interesting. What is Putin hoping for?

MAYNES: You know, he's looking for more support from Xi, beyond trade. You know, Putin published an article in the Chinese press on the eve of Xi's visit in which he really tried to bind Russia's fallout with the West over Ukraine to China's own tensions with the U.S. in particular - this message that this is our common enemy. Putin also wrote Russia was open to Chinese peace proposals but claimed the West didn't want an end to the Ukraine conflict because, Putin argued, the war was part of this grander plot to not only degrade Russia, but to contain China. You know, how convincing that will be to Xi, I guess we'll find out.

FADEL: And what is the state of the war? I mean, Putin made a surprise trip to occupied Ukraine over the weekend.

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, this was Putin's first known trip to the war zone - a surprise visit to Mariupol, the city occupied by Russian forces...

FADEL: Right.

MAYNES: ...But only after a scorched-earth siege last year. Putin's visit came under cover of night, which means Putin - and, subsequently, Russian television viewers - saw little, if any, of the destruction of Mariupol. What they did see were new apartments, playgrounds, a new theater and also a small crowd of grateful locals, one of whom told Putin that Russia had built a piece of heaven in Mariupol. Another telling moment was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARAT KHUSNULLIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: This is Putin's deputy minister and point man for reconstruction, Marat Khusnullin, assuring Putin - and, of course, TV viewers - that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the destruction of the city and bombing civilians. You know, Ukraine had a different take, of course. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said when it came to Putin in Mariupol, this was a classic case of a criminal being drawn to the scene of his own crime.

FADEL: A crime. Yeah. All of this is unfolding against the backdrop of these charges issued by the International Criminal Court against Putin for war crimes. Has Putin said anything about the charges?

MAYNES: No. And if Putin's concerned, he certainly isn't showing it. And that presumably was the subtext of his trip to Mariupol. The Kremlin has made clear the ICC court warrant charging Putin with overseeing the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children into Russia is null and void in their eyes. You know, after all, Kremlin officials note that Russia, like the U.S., is not a signatory to the court, so there's no jurisdiction here.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.