Thursday, April 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 391

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Putin, Xi caution against turning Ukraine into “uncontrollable” crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have cautioned against any steps that might push the Ukraine conflict into an “uncontrollable phase”, adding that there could be no winners in a nuclear war.

In a joint statement issued at the end of Xi’s state visit to Moscow, Putin accused Western powers of fighting “to the last Ukrainian”, while Xi reiterated China’s “neutral position” on Ukraine and called for dialogue.

China’s state media report that Xi and Putin stress that “responsible dialogue” is the best way to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

The Russian side reaffirmed its commitment to resuming peace talks after the conclusion of discussions between Xi and Putin in Moscow.

The two sides pointed out that to resolve the Ukraine crisis, all countries’ “legitimate security concerns” must be respected and confrontation should be avoided.

Russia ready to help Chinese businesses replace Western firms that left: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia is ready to help Chinese businesses replace Western firms that have left Russia over the war in Ukraine during formal talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

The Russian president also stated he had discussed the proposed Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, which would ship Russian gas to China, with the Chinese leader.

Xi also added in the meeting that he wanted to “strengthen coordination and cooperation with Russia”.

Beijing has an ‘impartial position’ on Ukraine crisis

Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Beijing had an “impartial position” on the conflict in Ukraine and that it supported peace and dialogue, RIA news agency reported.

Xi, who was speaking through a translator after talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, stated talks with the Kremlin leader had been “open and friendly”.

Putin added China’s peace proposals could be used as the basis for peace negotiations.

NATO chief warns China against supplying Russia with weapons

NATO’s Chief Jens Stoltenberg warned China against supplying weapons to Russia as leaders of both countries continue talks in Moscow.

“We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia, but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia that would be to support an illegal war,” he added.

Seven out of 30 allies met NATO’s military spending target in 2022, Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg told reporters in a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels that the alliance originally had expected two more countries to meet the goal.

“But because GDP has increased more than expected for a couple of allies, two allies that we expected to be at 2 percent are now slightly below 2 percent,” he added.

Stoltenberg did not reveal which countries reached the goal but referred to NATO’s annual report to be published later on Tuesday.

Pentagon to speed up deliveries of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

The Pentagon is speeding up its deliveries of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster and can be delivered in eight to 10 months, US officials told The Associated Press.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship.

But officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told the news agency that the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain.

Pentagon officials are expected to make the announcement surrounding the Abrams tanks soon.

US pushes back on Russian demands to ease Western sanctions

The United States has pushed back on Russian demands that Western sanctions be eased before it allows Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports beyond mid-May, saying there were no restrictions on Russian agricultural products or fertiliser.

Moscow’s demands include allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the SWIFT banking system and unblocking the accounts and financial activities of Russian fertiliser companies.

The deal allowing the safe wartime export of Ukrainian grain from its Black Sea ports, initially brokered last July by Turkey and the United Nations, was renewed on Saturday for at least 60 days, half the intended period.

The US strongly supports UN efforts to get Ukrainian and Russian agricultural products to world markets, stated a State Department spokesperson, adding that it has “gone to extraordinary lengths to clarify that we have carved food and fertiliser out from our sanctions imposed on Russia.”

“The only prohibitions on food and fertiliser exports from Russia are those imposed by the Government of the Russian Federation,” the spokesperson continued, stating, “Russia is the one restricting its exports – it imposed export quotas on certain fertilisers, and recently extended them through the spring.”

Ukraine repels Russian advance into Bakhmut centre

Kyiv’s forces have repelled Russian attempts to advance into the centre of the small eastern city of Bakhmut, a top Ukrainian general said on Tuesday.

The months-long battle for Bakhmut has become one of the bloodiest of Russia’s nearly 13-month-old war in Ukraine.

“Assault groups of the enemy are trying to advance from the outskirts to the centre of the city but our defence forces are working and destroying them 24/7,” Oleksandr Syrskyi, the Commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

He added there was intense fighting along the eastern front line.

US is an active combatant in Ukraine war: Russia

While Russia’s top ministers hold talks with the Chinese delegation in Moscow, Russian superhawk Nikolai Patrushev claimed the West is already an active combatant in the war in Ukraine.

“In pursuit of the goal of defeating Russia, the United States and its vassals continue to pump weapons into the Ukrainian regime and, in fact, are already participants in the conflict,” he told a meeting in Ulyanovsk, Tass reported.

Patrushev is the secretary of Russia’s security council, one of President Vladimir Putin’s very closest advisors, and an infamous hardliner.

While the sentiment is not new, framing the conflict as a contest with the “West” is part of Russia’s strategy to convince China that it, too, has an interest in Moscow’s victory.

Wagner Group facing personnel crisis as convict recruits return to civilian life

Thousands of convicts released to fight for the Wagner Group are set to be freed to civilian life, according to British military intelligence.

The mercenaries recruited murders, rapists and thieves to bolster their ranks in Ukraine, with the promise they could leave with a clean record after six months of service.

In its latest update on the war in Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday: “Although approximately half of the prisoners recruited have likely been killed or wounded, evidence from Russia suggests the group is following through on its promise to free survivors.”

“The certificates issued to freed Wagner veterans claim to have been endorsed by the decree of President Vladimir Putin,” it noted, adding, “With Wagner now likely banned from recruiting more prisoners, this exodus will worsen its personnel problems.”

Over 8,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s war began: UN agency

At least 8,317 civilians have been killed and at least 13,892 have been injured across Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement.

The highest numbers of civilian casualties were recorded in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the OHCHR numbers show.

The numbers are based on information collected up until March 19, 2023, OHCHR added, providing the following details:

  • In Ukraine-controlled territory: 6,446 killed and 11,374 injured
  • In Russian-controlled territories: 1,871 killed and 2,518 injured

Citing intense hostilities, OHCHR said the reports from some locations are delayed and many are still pending corroboration and so “the actual figures are considerably higher.”

Among those areas are the cities of Mariupol in Donetsk region, as well as Lysychansk, Popasna, and Severodonetsk in Luhansk region, “where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties,” according to the agency.

Kremlin says Putin and Xi had “thorough” exchange of views

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a “thorough” exchange of views during a face-to-face meeting in Moscow on Monday, the Kremlin said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on the outcome of the first of Xi’s three-day visit to Russia, during which the presidents are expected to discuss Beijing’s proposition on resolving the conflict in Ukraine.

“A thorough exchange of views took place,” Peskov told reporters, adding that the leaders will elaborate during their press statements on Tuesday.

He also confirmed Putin and Xi discussed China’s “peace plan” during their first meeting of the visit which lasted four and a half hours, without disclosing any more details.

Putin and Xi are also expected to hold official joint events in the Kremlin on Tuesday, including two rounds of Russia-Chinese negotiations, a ceremony for signing documents, statements for the press and a state dinner.

However, senior officials in Kyiv and the United States have warned that they predict the meetings will have little impact on the conflict in Ukraine, where Russia’s invasion has prompted a mass humanitarian crisis and left tens of thousands dead.

Xi invites Putin to visit China

Chinese President Xi Jinping has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to travel to China later this year, as the two leaders hold talks in Moscow that Western allies caution may result in little diplomatic breakthrough on the war in Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has already accepted Xi’s invitation, the Russian prime minister’s spokesperson was quoted saying by state news agency TASS.

Xi met with Mishustin on Tuesday and invited him to visit China as soon as possible to establish closer ties with China’s new Prime Minister Li Qiang, TASS reported.

Xi’s three-day state visit to Russia comes as Beijing attempts to frame itself as a mediator in the conflict in Ukraine, having called for a ceasefire and peace talks in a vaguely-worded proposal last month.

But leaders in Kyiv and its Western allies remain skeptical of China’s position on resolving the war, based on concerns that nothing offered by Beijing so far supports Ukraine’s demand that all Russian troops retreat from its territory.

“We ain’t no idiots”: Taiwan’s FM hits out at China’s attempts to play Ukraine peacemaker

Taiwan’s foreign minister on Tuesday criticized China’s efforts to present itself as a peacemaker in the Ukraine conflict while it “threatens war” against the self-ruled island.

“The PRC threatens war against Taiwan & others, but wants to propose a peace plan to Russia, who initiated the war against Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account.

“We ain’t no idiots. Want peace? Both autocrats should immediately stop their threats, aggression & expansionism,” he added.

Wu’s apparent reference to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin comes as Xi makes a three-day trip to Moscow that has been framed by Beijing as “a journey of peace.”

Putin said Monday that Russia is ready to study China’s proposal for resolving the situation in Ukraine but Western leaders have expressed skepticism about Beijing’s role as a peace broker.

Beijing’s claim to neutrality has been severely undermined by its refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict — it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” — and its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.

China’s ruling Communist Party has never controlled Taiwan but claims the self-ruled island democracy as its own and has repeatedly refused to rule out taking it by force. China has also increasingly exerted its military pressure on Taiwan by regularly sending aircraft and naval ships across the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

Japan confirms PM Kyiv visit to “resolutely reject Russia’s aggression against Ukraine”

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Tuesday.

In a statement, the ministry said Kishida would express Japan’s “solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine” and “his respect for the courage and perseverance of the Ukrainian people standing up to defend their homeland.”

“Prime Minister Kishida will resolutely reject Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and unilateral changing of the status quo by force, and reconfirm his determination to uphold the international order based on the rule of law,” the ministry’s statement said.

Kishida’s surprise trip comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping holds talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

His visit will be the first time a Japanese prime minister has visited a country or region with ongoing fighting since World War II, according to public broadcaster NHK. It will also be the first visit to Ukraine by an Asian member of the G7 grouping and the first by a United States ally in the region.

The dual visits by Kishida and Xi underscore deep divisions in northeast Asia toward the war in Ukraine, with Japan pledging substantial aid for Kyiv, while China remains a lone voice supporting an increasingly isolated Putin — now a global pariah and suspected war criminal.

Kishida will travel to Poland on Wednesday, the ministry added in its statement.

New Zealand national killed in Ukraine frontline battle

A New Zealand citizen has been killed in action in Ukraine, a report from CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand (RNZ) confirmed Tuesday.

The man, a former New Zealand Defense Force soldier, died in a frontline battle in eastern Ukraine, RNZ said, citing sources in the country.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the reports of his death, according to RNZ.

The soldier is the third New Zealander to be killed in Ukraine since the war began last year, RNZ added.

Xi meets Russian Prime Minister in Moscow

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived at the Russian White House in Moscow for a meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ahead of further talks at the Kremlin, state-run news agency Tass reported Tuesday.

Xi is on a three-day state visit to Russia framed by Beijing as a peacemaking project despite deep skepticism in Kyiv and the West.

The Chinese leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for four and a half hours on Monday and are expected to hold further talks on Tuesday before signing documents and holding a joint news conference ahead of a state lunch.

The Russian White House houses the offices of the country’s government.

Zelensky says EU’s ammunition plan gives Ukraine “confidence in our unity”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said EU plans to accelerate the supply of ammunition to Ukraine gives him “confidence in our unity.”

“This decision is worth 2 billion euros. It provides for both immediate delivery and production of ammunition. This is a strategic move,” he stated in his nightly address on Monday.

“It gives us confidence in our unity, in the immutability of the progress towards victory over the terrorist state. I am grateful to all our partners in Europe. To all those who are truly committed to making Europe strong and free,” he added.

Estonia’s Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur has noted that following a meeting in Brussels, European Union member states agreed on the joint procurement of one million rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition for Ukraine. Seventeen EU member states and Norway agreed to jointly procure ammunition to “aid Ukraine and replenish national stockpiles,” the European Defence Agency (EDA) explained later in a news release.

In his nightly address, Zelensky also reiterated his thanks to the United States for its latest military aid package announcement.

He called the $350 million package “all that is truly necessary to support our soldiers”.

Ukrainian intelligence official says there is currently no evidence of China supplying weapons to Russia

There is currently no evidence that China is supplying weapons to Russia, a Ukrainian intelligence official said Monday.

“There are cases when (President Vladimir) Putin’s regime, the Russian Federation, purchases drones, civilian goods from open sources and uses microchips from those goods. However, no evidence of arms deliveries have been recorded. Ukraine is monitoring closely,” Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, told national television.

Yusov spoke as Putin was hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a three-day visit to Moscow.

Western leaders have expressed skepticism about China’s potential role as a peacemaker and its claimed neutrality.

The United States and its allies have also been warning that China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia for its war effort, which Beijing has denied.

White House maintains a skeptical view of Xi-Putin meeting

The White House maintained its skeptical view of this week’s summit between Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, suggesting there was little evidence the talks could yield positive developments for Ukraine.

John Kirby, the National Security Council communications coordinator, told reporters the US remains concerned that Xi would reiterate calls for a ceasefire in Ukraine that would only benefit Russia by allowing Russian forces to remain inside Ukrainian territory.

He said there wasn’t evidence yet that Beijing was moving forward with providing Moscow with weapons, but he said the option hasn’t been taken off the table.

“We’ll see what they come out of this meeting talking about. I mean, we don’t know if there’s going to be some sort of arrangement, I would just tell you that we still don’t believe that China is taking it off the table,” he added.

He told CNN’s Phil Mattingly the US views Russia as China’s “junior partner.”

A prospective phone call between Xi and President Biden remains in the cards, but will only occur at the “most appropriate time,” Kirby stated.

In the meantime, the administration still hopes for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Beijing and is working on arranging economic visits by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to China.

Chinese president conveys willingness to help find a “political solution” to war in Ukraine

China’s leader Xi Jinping underlined the country’s willingness to play a role in finding a political solution to Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a readout of the meeting Xi had with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday. The meeting marked the first of a three-day visit to Russia.

The readout, as published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, said China and Russia “shared similar goals” and Xi and Putin “exchanged in-depth views on the Ukraine issue” during their conversation.

Xi emphasized that “voices of peace and reason are constantly gathering, and the majority of countries support easing tensions, advocating reconciliation and talks, and oppose fueling the fire,” according to the readout.

It also noted “conflicts eventually need to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation,” reminding that China had recently issued a paper calling for a political solution to end the conflict, which the readout refers to as the “Ukrainian crisis.”

The readout added that China’s proposal on a political solution “opposes Cold War mentality, and opposes unilateral sanctions” and it is “willing to continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political solution to the Ukraine issue.”

China’s readout said Putin appreciated China’s “fair, objective and balanced position” on international issues and that Russia “holds an open attitude towards peace talks, and welcomes China’s constructive role in that regard.”

US concerned China will back ceasefire that would leave Russian troops in Ukraine: White House

The United States hopes that Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, advocates for a resolution to the war in Ukraine that includes a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, the White House said.

John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, pointed to China’s own peace plan that includes the principle of respecting the sovereignty of all countries.

He encouraged Xi to “advocate for this exact, essential key point, which must include the withdrawal” of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory “consistent with the UN charter.” Ukrainian leaders have also put together a peace plan “which draws again on the same UN principles,” Kirby said during a press briefing at the White House.

He stated the war could end immediately if Putin withdrew troops from Ukraine.

“We are concerned that instead, China will reiterate calls for a ceasefire that leaves Russian forces inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” Kirby said. “Any ceasefire that does not address the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine would effectively ratify Russia’s illegal conquest,” he added.

On Monday, after Xi arrived in Moscow, US Secretary of State Blinken reiterated these concerns, saying any plans for a ceasefire without the removal of Russian forces would “allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops, and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia.”

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