As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares to speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping next week in the aftermath of his foreign ministry’s proposed peace plan, Estonia’s defence minister has made his country’s position clear: “No one has the right” to nudge Kyiv towards the negotiating table. For the Baltic nation, unencumbered by the need to indulge a China that could turn the tide of the war should they choose to give weapons to Russia, it is imperative that those not directly involved in fighting resign themselves simply to recognising that Ukraine “is its own country and has to restore its own territories”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, fresh off his party brokering a diplomatic deal between lifelong enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, is believed to be planning a phone call with Mr Zelensky next week, after he visits Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
It will be the first time the Chinese leader has spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart after more than a year of claiming a neutral stance over the war.
And it comes just weeks after they urged both Russia and Ukraine to resume peace talks and put an end to the fighting, though their 12-point “position paper” was widely criticised by the West given their refusal to condemn Putin’s invasion.
The talks have not been confirmed, nor might they bring about any real change in Europe, but the world will pay attention as Putin’s most significant ally, and the greatest threat to the US-led Western order, speaks to the President of a country that has become the symbol of the defence of democracy against expansionist autocats, all under the guise of promoting peace.
But Estonian defence minister Hanno Pevkur, speaking to Express.co.uk, said that while peace was the ultimate aim, it was paramount that the plight of Ukrainians does not get swept up in the global desire to avoid war.
He called on Western leaders and Russian allies such as China to recognise that to urge peace negotiations was to overlook a nation of people forced to fight for their livelihood and identity simply because they were born Ukrainian.
“We do not have a right to say to Ukrianians what they should do”, he said. “No one else can say, except Ukrainians, when they should be ready to continue with the peace negotiations. We can only say that, of course, Ukraine is its own country and it has to restore its own territories.”
He added: “There always is a possibility [of peace talks] but we have to understand that there are no real wishes from the Kremlin side to engage in peace conversations.”
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A conversation between Mr Zelensky and Xi Jinping is significant because it is well-speculated that Xi is one of the few, if not the only, world leader to whom Putin will listen.
Mr Zelensky has said that he is willing to have the conversation, admitting that “the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad”, though he added that the real question was “what follows the words”.
And US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also applauded the prospect of Sino-Ukrainian talks, saying that “Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective.”
But these comments do not suggest there does not remain a prevailing belief that China’s calls for peace are disingenuous; indeed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went as far to say that “China has taken sides” in the Ukraine conflict, referring to its refusal to condemn Putin’s invasion and their ongoing alliance with Russia. Other US comments have also expressed the same sentiment.
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Estonia has led the support of Ukraine in its defence against Russia – it is the only nation to have supplied Kyiv with a level of financial aid that is greater than one percent of its gross domestic product, making it the most prolific backer in relation to the size of its economy.
Mr Pevkur’s comments about the prospect of peace talks speak to the unique position of both Estonia and the other Baltic nations; that is, as he put it, that they “understand what it means to have a neighbour like Russia”.
“We share the same history with Ukraine and also the same values,” he said. “As we are the frontline country [of support],we feel the pressure.”
Ahead of the reported talks next week, the words of Estonia, a country with uniquely intimate knowledge of both Russia and Ukraine, may be the most important to heed. No amount of global influence can force prevailing peace.