Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and China's President Xi Jinping.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and China's President Xi Jinping. Image Credit: AFP

Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a “long and meaningful” phone conversation Wednesday, their first known contact since Russia’s attack of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The phone call, which official said lasted nearly an hour, is a significant development in efforts to resolve the conflict. It comes two months after Beijing, which has long been aligned with Russia, said it wanted to act as a peace mediator in the war against Ukraine and after Xi visited Moscow last month.

We welcome the news that there was a phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. We think that's a good thing.

- John Kirby, White House national security spokesman

New ambassador appointed

Zelensky also appointed a new ambassador to Beijing on Wednesday after his call with Chinese leader Xi.

Pavel Ryabikin, who previously headed the ministry of strategic industries of Ukraine, was named Kyiv's new envoy to China, according to a decree on the presidency's website. Ukraine has not had an ambassador to China since February 2021.

"I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelensky said in a Facebook post without elaborating.

Ukraine's presidential office said more details of what was said would be published later in the day.

In China, the phone call was reported by state media. China Central Television said Beijing intends to send an envoy to Kyiv to discuss “a political settlement” for the war.

'A good thing': US hails Zelensky-Xi talks
Washington: The White House lauded the phone call Wednesday between Ukrainian head of state Volodymyr Zelensky and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss possibilities for ending the war between Russia and Ukraine.

"We welcome the news that there was a phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. We think that's a good thing," White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

"Now, whether that's going to lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan or proposal, I just don't think we know that right now," Kirby said.

"We have long said we want this war to end," he said, adding that it could end "immediately" if Russia would pull its troops out of Ukraine.

"If there's going to be a negotiated peace, it's got to (be) when President Zelensky is ready for it ... where he can do it from a position of strength," Kirby said.

"We certainly would welcome any effort to arrive at a just peace, as long as that peace could be just, could be sustainable, and could be credible," said Kirby.

"And in our view, it's not going to be sustainable or credible unless the Ukrainians and President Zelensky personally is invested in it and supportive of it," he said.

Russia commends China's approach

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova commended China’s approach but was scathing about Ukraine’s stance.

Referring to the call, she praised Beijing’s “readiness to strive to establish a (peace) negotiations process,” while slamming what she called Kyiv’s “rejection of any sound initiatives aimed at a settlement.”

Talks between the two leaders had been anticipated for weeks, after China produced a 12-point proposal to end the fighting. The phone call was for China another step toward deeper involvement in resolving the conflict.

Despite that overture, Zelensky said in an interview with The Associated Press in late March that he hadn't spoken with Xi since the war began and extended an invitation for him to visit Ukraine.

The peace proposal came on the heels of China’s announcement that it was keen to act as mediator in the war.

With the step, Xi’s government reinforced China’s claim to being neutral in the war.