Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, will visit China this week as Beijing tries to position itself as a potential broker for peace in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
News of Lukashenko’s visit follows an announcement by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that he planned to discuss Beijing’s proposals for ending the war.
Although he has not committed his country to a direct role in Putin’s war, Lukashenko has allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory to support the invasion. Kyiv has warned that Minsk’s involvement in the war could deepen, with Russian troops and equipment stationed in the country that borders them both.
Lukashenko’s visit between February 28 to March 2, announced early Saturday morning, follows a statement by China’s foreign minister Qin Gang that Beijing is seeking to boost political ties with Minsk.
Qin told his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Aleinik that Beijing would back Minsk in opposing moves by “external forces” to interfere in its internal affairs or impose “illegal” sanctions.
Last year, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Lukashenko met in the Uzbek city of Samarkand where they announced a strategic partnership. Newsweek has contacted the Chinese and Belarusian foreign ministries for comment.
Beijing has not responded to Zelensky’s call for a summit with China, which submitted a 12-point document on the first anniversary of Putin’s invasion to bring Moscow and Kyiv to the negotiating table. On Friday Zelensky said that the plan showed “there is respect for our territorial integrity” and that meeting Xi “will be beneficial for our countries and for security in the world.”
China’s plan includes calls for a ceasefire but leaves Russian troops in occupied territory. It could also potentially end sanctions on Russia.
Despite Zelensky welcoming Beijing’s overture, his advisor Mykhailo Podolyak described the plan as “unrealistic.”
“You don’t bet on an aggressor who broke international law and will lose the war,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Zelensky has proposed his own peace plan, rejected by Moscow, which includes Russian troops leaving all the Ukrainian territory it occupies.
China is neutral on the issue of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine but as an ally of Russia which it has leverage over, is seen a significant player which can end hostilities.
However, the U.S. said this week that Beijing is considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia, although China has strongly denied this accusation.
Meanwhile, China was the only G20 country to join Russia in blocking a communique to condemn Putin’s invasion. Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner, called Beijing’s decision “regrettable.”
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