Putin: China has peace plan for Ukraine when West is ready
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend an official welcome ceremony at The Grand Kremlin Palace, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Alexey Maishev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
By Karl Ritter in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday a Chinese peace plan could provide a basis for a settlement of the fighting in Ukraine when the West is ready for it.
Speaking after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Putin charged that Ukraine’s Western allies so far have shown no interest in that.
He also said British plans to provide Ukraine with ammunition for battle tanks containing depleted uranium, saying it heralds the West switching to supplying Kyiv with weapons containing nuclear components. He said that Russia will respond if it happens, but didn’t elaborate.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit Tuesday to Kyiv, stealing some of the global attention from Asian rival President Xi Jinping of China, who is in Moscow to show support for Russia against the West over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The two visits, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) apart, highlighted the nearly 13-month-old war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind Moscow or Kyiv. They follow a week in which China and Japan both enjoyed diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.
Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital, coinciding with Xi’s talks for a second day with President Vladimir Putin in the Russian capital.
Kishida will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskyy’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7,” during his visit to Ukraine, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in announcing his trip to Kyiv.
Kyodo News said Kishida visited a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians, laid flowers at a church there and paid his respects to the victims.
“I’m outraged by the cruelty. I represent the Japanese citizens to express my condolences to those who lost their lives,” he was quoted as saying.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel tweeted about the “two very different European-Pacific partnerships” that unfolded Tuesday.
“Kishida stands with freedom, and Xi stands with a war criminal,” Emanuel said, referring to last week’s action by the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Putin, saying it wanted to put him on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
Washington is accelerating its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, choosing to send a refurbished older version that can be ready faster, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The aim is to get the 70-ton behemoths to the war zone in eight-to-10 months, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced. The U.S. has led efforts among Kyiv’s Western allies to augment Ukraine’s military might.
Putin warmly welcomed Xi on Monday for a three-day visit the two major powers described as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” Putin is keen to show he has a heavyweight ally and also find a market for Russian energy products under Western sanctions.
Speaking Tuesday at talks involving top officials from both countries, Putin said he wants to expand bilateral economic ties, noting Russian-Chinese trade rose by 30% last year to $185 billion. It’s expected to top $200 billion this year, he added.
Russia stands “ready to meet the Chinese economy’s growing demand for energy resources” by boosting deliveries of oil and gas, he said.
There are plans to expand industrial cooperation, including aircraft and shipbuilding industries, and other high-tech sectors.
Xi said he aimed to “strengthen coordination and interaction” with Russia, adding that it would help “the prosperity and revival of China and Russia.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused NATO of wanting to become the world’s dominant military force and said Moscow is trying to prevent it.
“That is why we are expanding our cooperation with China, including in the security sphere,” he said.
Western officials “have seen some signs” that Putin also wants lethal weapons from China, though there is no evidence Beijing has granted his request, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Tuesday.
“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “That would be to support an illegal war and only prolong the war.”
At a meeting Tuesday with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Xi said he invited Putin to visit China later this year for a top-level meeting of China’s One Belt, One Road regional initiative, which seeks to extend Beijing’s influence through economic cooperation projects.
Moscow and Beijing have both weathered international condemnation of their human rights record. The Chinese government has been widely condemned for alleged atrocities against Uighur Muslims in its far western Xinjiang region. The allegations include genocide, forced sterilization and the mass detention of nearly 1 million Uighurs. Beijing has denied the allegations.
Japanese public television channel NTV showed Kishida riding a train from Poland to Kyiv. His trip comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and a week after a breakthrough summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel.
In New Delhi, Kishida called for developing and Global South countries to raise their voices to defend the rules-based international order and help stop Russia’s war.
Japan, which has territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is particularly concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have conducted joint military exercises near Japan’s coasts.
Beijing’s diplomatic foray follows its recent success in brokering a deal between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia, to restore diplomatic ties after years of tensions. The move displayed China’s influence in a region where Washington has long been the major foreign player.
China looks to Russia as a partner in standing up to what both see as U.S. aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair criticism of their human rights records.
Beijing insists it is a neutral broker in Ukraine peace efforts.
Kishida was the only G-7 leader who hadn’t visited Ukraine and was under domestic pressure to do so. U.S. President Joe Biden took a similar route to visit Kyiv last month, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Kishida, Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone, was invited by Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv.
Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has been limited to equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and drones, and humanitarian supplies including generators.
Japan has contributed more than $7 billion to Ukraine, and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing assistance and support for jobs and education, a rare move in a country that is known for its strict immigration policy.
Tokyo joined the U.S. and European nations in sanctioning Russia over its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine. In contrast, China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and criticized Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and Washington of provoking Putin’s military action.
Japan was quick to react because it fears the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where China’s military has grown increasingly assertive and has escalated tensions around self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing’s contacts with Russia will help to bring about peace. “President Putin said that Russia appreciates China’s consistent position of upholding fairness, objectivity and balance on major international issues,” he said. “Russia has carefully studied China’s position paper on the political settlement of the Ukrainian issue, and is open to peace talks.”
Asked about Kishida’s trip to Kyiv, he added, “We hope Japan could do more things to deescalate the situation instead of the opposite.”
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.
Blinken warns Ukraine cease-fire now would result in ‘Potemkin peace,’ legitimizing Russian invasion
By Susie Blann And Matthew Lee in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States and its allies should not support a cease-fire or peace talks to end the war in Ukraine until Kyiv gains strength and can negotiate on its own terms.
As an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive appeared to be taking shape, Blinken said heeding calls from Russia and others, including China, for negotiations now would result in a false “Potemkin peace” that wouldn’t secure Ukraine’s sovereignty or enhance European security.
“We believe the prerequisite for meaningful diplomacy and real peace is a stronger Ukraine, capable of deterring and defending against any future aggression,” Blinken said in a speech in Finland, which recently became NATO’s newest member and shares a long border with Russia.
His use of the term “Potemkin” referred to the brightly painted village fronts that 18th century Russian government minister Grigory Potemkin reportedly used to have built to create an illusion of prosperity for Russia’s empress.
Blinken repeated the U.S. view that “a cease-fire that simply freezes current lines in place” and allows Russian President Vladimir Putin “to consolidate control over the territory he has seized, and rest, rearm, and re-attack — that is not a just and lasting peace.”
Allowing Moscow to keep the one-fifth of Ukrainian territory it’s occupied would send the wrong message to Russia and to “other would-be aggressors around the world,” according to Blinken, implying that a cease-fire shouldn’t be arranged until either Ukraine pushes Russia back or Russia withdraws its troops.
Blinken’s position is similar to that of Ukrainian officials, including his statement that Russia must pay for a share of Ukraine’s reconstruction and be held accountable for the full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.
After months of battlefield stalemate across a 685-mile (1100-km) front line, Ukrainian officials have given confusing signals about whether a counteroffensive, relying heavily on recently deployed advanced Western weapons and training, is coming or already underway.
Some have suggested the campaign will not be a barrage of simultaneous attacks across the entire front but rather a series of more targeted, limited strikes, first to weaken Russia’s supply lines and infrastructure, then expanded to broader targets with greater intensity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy weighed in again on Friday.
“This is not a movie,” he told reporters in Kyiv. “It is hard to say how you’ll see the counteroffensive. The main point here is for Russia to see it. And not just see but feel it. Especially, we speak about the troops that have occupied our territories. De-occupation of our territories – this is the result of our counteroffensive. When you see this, you’ll understand that it has started.”
Zelenskyy has said his goal is to drive Russian troops out of the four territories it partially occupies and illegally annexed last fall, as well as from the Crimean Peninsula the Kremlin illegally seized in 2014.
Putin has said two of his goals in invading Ukraine were to improve Russia’s security and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO but the Kyiv government has applied to join the alliance, and Sweden is hoping to be accepted as a member in July. That would surround Russia with NATO countries in the Baltic Sea.
Blinken described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a catastrophic strategic failure for Moscow that had strengthened NATO, the European Union and Ukraine. Russia has become more isolated, he said, shackled to China as a junior partner in a relationship that Beijing has increasingly come to resent, and no longer able to use energy as a political tool in countries it once counted as its own or satellites.
For its part, Russia wants any talks to address Ukraine’s request to join NATO.
“Naturally, this (issue) will be one of the main irritants and potential problems for many, many years to come,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
Blinken said Washington was ready to support peace efforts by other countries, including those by China and Brazil but that any peace agreement must uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
China, which says it is neutral and wants to serve as a mediator but has supported Moscow politically, on Friday urged countries to stop sending weapons to Ukraine. The United States is a leading Western ally and supplier of arms to Kyiv.
In Kyiv, in the sixth air attack in as many days, Ukrainian air defenses late Thursday and early Friday intercepted all 15 incoming cruise missiles and 21 attack drones, Ukraine’s chief of staff, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said.
The Ukrainian capital was simultaneously attacked from different directions by Iranian-made Shahed drones and cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea region, senior Kyiv official Serhii Popko wrote on Telegram.
A 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the attack, in which falling debris damaged private houses, outbuildings and cars, according to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office.
Elsewhere, several explosions occurred Friday in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, one of the four provinces Russia illegally annexed. Russian-appointed officials blamed Ukrainian rocket attacks and said nine people were wounded. Videos posted on social media appear to show smoke rising in the port area. Ukrainian officials acknowledged their forces were responsible and claimed Russian ships were evacuating the port.
The Moscow-appointed governor of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, claimed Friday that Ukrainian strikes had killed three people and wounded four, including a 3-year-old-girl.
In other developments Friday, border regions of Russia again came under fire. One of the most frequently hit targets of cross-border shelling, Russia’s Belgorod region, was bombarded by artillery shells and drone strikes in multiple villages, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. At least two women died in a car, multiple people were injured, and apartment buildings, cars, power transmission lines and farm equipment were damaged, he said on Telegram.
The Freedom of Russia Legion, one of the groups that has claimed responsibility for prior attacks on Belgorod, blamed the Russian military for the deaths. The group alleged the Russian army had mistakenly believed the car belonged to the paramilitary group. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the region, and many roads have been closed.
Air defense systems shot down several Ukrainian drones in Russia’s southern Kursk region, Gov. Roman Starovoit reported. In Russia’s Bryansk region, Gov. Alexander Bogomaz said Ukrainian forces shelled two villages, with no reported casualties.
Two drones also attacked energy facilities in Russia’s western Smolensk region, which borders Belarus, officials said.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said the incursions could be a Ukrainian strategy to disperse Russian forces before a counteroffensive.
“Russian commanders now face an acute dilemma of whether to (strengthen) defenses in Russia’s border regions or reinforce their lines in occupied Ukraine,” the ministry said.
Matthew Lee reported from Oslo, Norway. Karl Ritter contributed from Stockholm and Andrew Katell from New York.
Austin hopes F-16 fight jet training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in coming weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he hopes that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Austin spoke as defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine. They were expected talk about which countries will provide F-16s, and how and where the pilot training will be done.
The officials will also get an update on the war effort from Ukrainian leaders, including preparation for that anticipated counteroffensive and how the allies, who have faced their own stockpile pressures, can continue to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
“We’re going to have to dig deeper, and we’re going to have to continue to look for creative ways to boost our industrial capability,” Austin said before the military leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”
European countries have said they are talking about which countries may have some of the F-16s available. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and only last weekend did President Joe Biden agree to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv.
“We hope this training will begin in the coming weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our short-term and medium-term security agreements. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
The leaders will also likely discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition.
It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday that training for Ukrainian pilots had begun in Poland and some other countries, though Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said training was still in the planning phase. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for training.
“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said, adding that initial discussions about who may have F-16s available to send is underway.
Ukraine has long sought the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.
The Biden administration’s decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also had argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said this week that the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.
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