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While Viktor Orban pushes for a ceasefire in China, Russian missiles hit Ukraine

While Viktor Orban pushes for a ceasefire in China, Russian missiles hit Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made a surprise visit to Beijing on Monday, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for global efforts to pressure Russia and Ukraine into a “ceasefire” and praised Orban’s diplomatic initiatives – a striking sign of how Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin want to create a multipolar world order not dominated by the United States.

As Xi Jinping hugged Orban in the Chinese capital, Russian missiles struck Kyiv, Dnipro and other Ukrainian cities on Monday, killing at least 31 people, including two in a Kyiv children’s hospital, underscoring the gruesome brutality of Putin’s war.

In response to the missile attack, but apparently also to the new diplomatic maneuvers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for global pressure to stop Russia’s aggression. “The whole world must muster all its determination to finally end the Russian attacks,” Zelensky posted on Telegram. “Murder is what Putin brings. Only together can we bring true peace and security.”

Orban’s visit to China followed trips to Kyiv and Moscow last week, just days after Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the EU Council. His push for peacemaking was criticized in the West for pressuring Kyiv to hand over territory Moscow had seized by force.

In Brussels, officials dismissed Orban’s efforts, saying he was not authorized to carry out diplomatic duties for the EU. “It should be clear that he is only representing his own country,” said an EU diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

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Eric Mamer, a spokesman for the European Commission, stressed that Orban was a lone fighter. “He has no mandate to represent the EU during these visits,” Mamer said.

But when Putin received Orban in Moscow last week, he specifically mentioned Hungary’s EU Council presidency. And in a sign of the new multipolar dimension of geopolitics, the Hungarian prime minister’s visit to Beijing came just hours before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Moscow for a state visit, his first since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In a statement before leaving New Delhi on Monday, Modi praised “my friend Vladimir Putin” and “the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.” After landing, Russian and Indian media showed Modi arriving at his Moscow hotel in a bright turquoise vest and being greeted by Indian dancers and well-wishers waving Indian flags.

Indian purchases of Russian oil, which have increased twenty-fold since 2021, have helped Moscow withstand tough Western economic sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

With his visit to Moscow, Modi, who was re-elected last month, signaled his autonomy, even as the Biden administration has been tireless in its efforts to court the Indian leader.

“Mr Putin wants to convey to the public: India is a friend, all the talk about isolating Russia is empty talk, not everyone is under the influence of the US-led West and the asymmetric but multipolar world is here,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, director of the Eurasian program at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi. “India would agree that it is a multipolar world, even if it is slightly skewed towards the West.”

The appearance of Orban and Xi was a diplomatic triumph for Putin, who has long called for such a multipolar, non-Western world order. Putin stressed that the West, especially the US and Britain, were responsible for prolonging his war in Ukraine by failing to put pressure on Kyiv to give in to his territorial demands.

After landing in China, Orban posted a photo of himself with the caption: “Peace Mission 3.0 #Beijing”.

At the meeting with Orban in Beijing, Xi said he appreciated the Hungarian president’s efforts to find a political solution to the war in Ukraine, which he described 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 instead of negative energy can a ceasefire in this conflict be achieved as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV. China, Xi added, has “actively pushed for peace and promoted talks in its own way.”

Ukraine stresses that it cannot agree to a ceasefire as long as Russian forces occupy about a fifth of its territory and rockets and bombs are falling on its cities. Zelenskyy called for a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, including at a “peace summit” in Switzerland last month, which China demonstratively did not attend. Russia was not invited.

People cleared away rubble and searched the debris after a Russian attack hit a major children’s hospital in Kyiv on July 8. (Video: Reuters)

Monday’s missile attacks appeared to bolster Kyiv’s claim that a ceasefire without Russian withdrawal would simply give Moscow the opportunity to regroup its forces and plan further attacks to assert its territorial claims.

In Kyiv, the Ohmatdyt children’s hospital was hit, killing two people, including a doctor. At least ten others were injured, according to the Ukrainian Emergency Situations Service, and patients and hospital staff were forced to take to the streets. In the city of Kryvyi Rih, at least ten people were killed, according to authorities.

Across the country, 31 people were killed, including 20 in Kyiv, the emergency services said. At least 61 were injured.

In an interview with 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 when you look at the soldiers, the equipment and the technology. Defeating Russia is a difficult thought to imagine. The probability that Russia could actually be defeated is completely incalculable.”

While Orban’s comments to Bild newspaper reflect a harsh reality that Ukraine and its Western backers are reluctant to acknowledge, Monday’s missile attack quickly underscored the terrible consequences of Putin’s war.

Beijing has rejected criticism from Ukraine, Europe and the United States over its decision to skip a peace summit hosted by Switzerland last month, saying it could not take part in talks that excluded Russia.

Instead, China, together with Brazil, put forward its own six-point proposal, which Chinese officials say has the support of dozens of developing countries.

From Beijing’s perspective, Western countries have been an obstacle to getting Russia and Ukraine to engage in direct negotiations, says Cui Hongjian, an international relations scholar at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Beijing believes it “needs to raise its voice and take a stand,” Cui said.

China’s claimed neutrality is coming under increasing pressure as the war drags on into its third year and China’s trade with Russia booms. At the same time, there is growing evidence that Chinese companies are economically and indirectly supporting Russia’s military-industrial base.

In public statements and appearances, Putin and Xi increasingly showed that they agreed on their shared goal of reshaping the world order and weakening U.S. influence.

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 Cooperation Organization (SCO), one of many multilateral groupings the two powers have used to expand their influence.

At that meeting, Putin proposed 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 little progress in illegally annexing four southeastern Ukrainian regions as well as Crimea, which it seized by force in 2014.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow on Monday that Moscow supports the diplomatic efforts.

“President Vladimir Putin is a staunch supporter of political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukraine conflict,” Peskov said.

Zelensky wrote on Telegram that Russia had fired more than 40 missiles at five or more Ukrainian cities and that residential buildings and a children’s hospital had been hit in Kyiv. He said the world must unite to stop Russian aggression.

“All forces are deployed to save as many people as possible,” wrote Zelensky. “And the whole world must muster all its determination to finally end the Russian attacks. Putin brings murder. Only together can we create true peace and security.”

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in a Telegram post that it had carried out a major missile attack on Ukraine on Monday, but insisted that the targets were “Ukrainian military facilities” and “air force bases.”

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