China's President Xi Jinping and Russia's President Vladimir Putin set their sights on shaping a new world order as the Chinese leader left Moscow on Wednesday, having made no direct support for Putin's war in Ukraine during his two-day visit.
Xi made a strong show of solidarity with Putin against the West, but he barely mentioned the Ukraine conflict and said on Tuesday that China had an "impartial position". There was no sign that Xi's efforts to play the role of peacemaker had yielded results.
Yet, as Xi departed he told Putin: "Now there are changes that haven't happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes."
"I agree," Putin said, to which Xi responded: “Take care of yourself dear friend, please.”
Commenting on the Xi-Putin meeting, the White House said China's position was not impartial and urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine's sovereign territory in order to end Europe's biggest conflict since World War Two.
Overnight while Xi was in Moscow, Russian forces launched a "massive air strike", firing 21 Shahed-136 drones, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday.
As Xi prepared to leave Moscow, air raid sirens blared across the Ukraine capital Kyiv and in Ukraine's north and east, with reports of drone attacks, but no major destruction.
Heralded by the Kremlin as a show of support from its most powerful friend, Xi's visit to Moscow featured carefully staged pomp and ceremony, but the spectacle was also marked by plenty of demonstrative bonhomie between the two autocrats.
Xi and Putin referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation and described their countries' relations as the best they have ever been.
"They (the leaders) shared the view that this relationship has gone far beyond the bilateral scope and acquired critical importance for the global landscape and the future of humanity," said a statement released by China.
Putin said on the Kremlin's website: "We are working in solidarity on the formation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order, which should be based on the central role of the UN, its Security Council, international law, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter."
In an earlier joint statement the leaders accused the West of undermining global stability and NATO of barging into the Asia-Pacific region, but asserted the close partnership between China and Russia did not constitute a "military-political alliance."
On Ukraine, Putin praised Xi for a peace plan he proposed last month, and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting. The West sees China's peace plan as a ploy to buy Putin time to regroup his forces and solidify his grip on occupied land.
China's 12-point plan has no specific details on how to end the bloody year-long war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee.
The West has sought to isolate Russia through global sanctions and Putin faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
China has not supported any of the moves and the West is concerned it may help arm Russia in its conflict, which Beijing has denied.
As Xi and Putin ended their talks on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund announced preliminary agreement with Kyiv on a four-year loan package of about $15.6 billion to the shattered country.
Separately, the United States intends to speed up delivery to Ukraine of 31 Abrams battle tanks to the autumn, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.
Kyiv had clamoured for tanks as well as other sophisticated Western military hardware as the conflict has slowed to a war of attrition with both sides suffering heavy losses.
Queuing for food, water
On the ground, bursts of incoming and outgoing artillery fire could be heard in the town of Chasiv Yar just west of Bakhmut, a small eastern city that has been the focus of intense fighting for months.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said the fiercest fighting continued to take place near Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the south.
Between apartment blocks in Chasiv Yar, mainly elderly residents queued for water and food delivered by a team from the State Emergency Service.
Oleksii Stepanov said he had been in Bakhmut until five days ago but was evacuated when his house was destroyed by a missile.
"We were in the kitchen and the missile came through the roof. The kitchen was all that was left standing," said the 54-year-old.
In Russian held Crimea, the administration in Sevastopol said it had suspended ferry routes around the port city, shortly after its governor said a Ukrainian drone attack had been repelled by air defences.
Ukraine's defence ministry said that an explosion in Dzhankoi in the north of the Crimean peninsula destroyed Russian cruise missiles intended for use by Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Moscow has launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.
Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, the front line has barely moved for four months except in Bakhmut where Russian forces made gains in January and February. Ukraine decided this month not to pull its forces out of the ruined city.