By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and China showcased their “no-limit friendship” on Tuesday during a pomp-laden Kremlin ceremony intended to further cement ties amid the fighting in Ukraine.
After hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping over a seven-course private dinner for 4½ hours the previous night, Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted him in the old imperial palace for talks involving top officials from both countries.
Xi walked slowly up the opulent red-carpeted staircase of the Grand Kremlin Palace as guards in 19th century-style parade uniforms snapped at attention.
Putin was waiting to greet the Chinese leader in St. George’s hall where walls are covered by white-marble plaques with gold engravings of the names of military units and soldiers awarded with the order of St. George, a top military award established by Catherine the Great.
In a tightly choreographed ceremony filled with imperial grandeur, the two leaders entered the huge chandeliered room from opposite sides and shook hands in the middle to the tune of the Russian and Chinese national anthems.
They walked past a lineup of Russian and Chinese officials to sit down for talks. Putin and Xi both wore black suits and dark red ties.
The pageantry reflected the importance of Xi’s three-day visit to Russia that gave a strong political boost to Putin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on charges of alleged involvement in abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
Moscow, which doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction, dismissed the move as “legally null and void,” but it further ramped up the pressure on the Russian leader as the fighting in Ukraine has dragged into a second year.
Speaking at the start of their meeting on Monday, Putin welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement and a cease-fire in Ukraine. The U.S. has criticized Beijing’s plan as a move intended to allow Russia to shore up its gains.
Prior to attending the Kremlin talks, Xi met with Russian Prime Minister Milkhail Mishustin. Unlike them, Russian and Chinese officials who attended the talks wore medical masks — a reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic that halted mutual visits.
Xi briefly referred to it, telling Mishustin he was happy to be back in Moscow after a long break because of the pandemic. He said that he invited Putin over Monday’s dinner to visit China later this year to attend a top-level meeting of China’s Belt and Road regional initiative.
Xi stayed at a brand-new Chinese-owned Soluxe Hotel set in a lavish riverside park in central Moscow that features trees and plants from all over China. He used a Chinese-made Hongqi limousine for driving around Moscow.