Putin’s multipolar world takes shape with Orban in Beijing, Modi in Moscow


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made a surprise visit to Beijing on Monday where Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a global effort to push Russia and Ukraine toward a “cease-fire” and praised Orban’s diplomatic efforts, which have drawn sharp criticism in the West for pressuring Kyiv to surrender territory that Moscow has seized by brutal force.

Ukraine has insisted that it cannot agree to any cease-fire while Russian forces are occupying about one-fifth of its territory and missiles and bombs are falling on its cities every day. President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a full withdrawal of Russian troops, including at a “peace” summit in Switzerland last month that China pointedly did not attend. Russia was not invited.

Even as Xi embraced Orban in the Chinese capital, missiles smashed down in Kyiv and Dnipro, Ukraine, on Monday.

Last week, days after Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, Orban visited Kyiv and Moscow, drawing strong disavowals in Brussels and other European capitals from officials who said he was not authorized to conduct diplomacy for the E.U.

“Irresponsible and disloyal of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to use Hungary’s EU Presidency to visit Moscow and President Putin,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson posted on X. “It sends the wrong signal to the outside world and is an insult to the Ukrainian people’s fight for their freedom.”

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Upon landing in China, Orban posted a photo of himself captioned: “Peace mission 3.0 #Beijing.”

The appearance by Orban and Xi represented a diplomatic triumph for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long called for a multipolar, non-Western world order. Putin has insisted that the West, particularly the United States and Britain, are responsible for prolonging his war in Ukraine by not pressuring Kyiv to give in to his territorial demands.

Orban’s surprise visit to China took place just hours before Putin was due to receive Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a state visit to Moscow.

Modi departed New Delhi on Monday morning and was expected to meet Putin for dinner. The trip is his first visit to Moscow since 2015. In a statement, Modi hailed “the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia” and said ties have advanced over the past decade in terms of energy, security, trade, investment and other areas.

Increased purchases by India of Russian commodities, especially oil, have helped Moscow withstand tough Western economic sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

With his visit to Putin, Modi, who was reelected last month, is breaking with the Indian tradition of a prime minister starting a new term by visiting a neighboring South Asian country as his or her first destination — underscoring the importance of the India-Russia relationship and Modi’s resolve to transform India from a regional power to a global player.

At the meeting with Orban in Beijing, Xi said he appreciated the Hungarian leader’s efforts to bring about a political solution to the war in Ukraine, which he referred to as a “conflict.”

“China and Hungary share the same basic positions and are working in the same direction,” he said.

“Only when all major powers exert positive energy rather than negative energy can the dawn of a cease-fire in this conflict appear as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV. China, Xi added, has been “actively urging peace and advocating talks in its own way.”

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Orban insisted that Ukraine could never defeat Russia. “There is no solution to this conflict on the front lines,” he said, adding: “​​Putin cannot lose if you look at the soldiers, equipment and technology. Defeating Russia is a thought that is difficult to imagine. The probability that Russia could actually be defeated is completely incalculable.”

Beijing has rejected criticism from Ukraine, Europe and the United States over its decision to skip a Swiss-hosted peace summit last month, arguing that it cannot take part in talks where Russia is excluded.

China, alongside Brazil, instead provided its own six-point proposal, for which Chinese officials claimed to have secured support from dozens of countries across the developing world.

From Beijing’s perspective, Western countries have served as an impediment to getting Russia and Ukraine to sit down and negotiate directly, said Cui Hongjian, an international relations scholar at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Beijing believes “it must make a voice and it must have a position,” Cui said.

China’s claimed neutrality has come under increasing strain as the war drags through a third year and China’s trade with Russia booms — along with mounting evidence of Chinese companies providing economic and indirect support for Russia’s military-industrial base.

In public statements and appearances, Putin and Xi increasingly have shown alignment in their shared ambition to remold the global order and weaken the influence of the United States and its allies.

Xi and Putin met last week in Kazakhstan, where Putin spoke of progress toward a “fair, multipolar world order” during the annual meeting of the Shanghai Organization Cooperation, one of many multilateral groupings the two powers have used to extend their influence.

At that meeting, Putin suggested resuming negotiations that took place in Istanbul in 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion when Ukraine was in a weak position. In the years since, each side has suffered tens of thousands of casualties, and Russia has made only marginal progress toward illegally annexing four southeastern Ukrainian regions, in addition to Crimea, which it seized by force in 2014.

In Moscow on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was in favor of the diplomatic efforts.

“President Vladimir Putin is a convinced supporter of the preferability of political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Ukrainian conflict,” Peskov said.

Zelensky, posting on Telegram, said that Russia had fired more than 40 missiles at five or more Ukrainian cities and that, in Kyiv, residences and a children’s hospital were struck. He said the world should unite to stop Russia’s aggression.

“All services are involved to save as many people as possible,” Zelensky wrote. “And the whole world must use all its determination to finally put an end to the Russian strikes. Murders are what Putin brings. Only together can we bring true peace and security.”

Shepherd reported from Taipei, Taiwan, and Shih from New Delhi. Serhii Korolchuk in Kyiv, Kate Brady in Berlin and Natalia Abbakumova in Moscow contributed to this report.



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