KYIV, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he understood China’s Xi Jinping had concerns about the situation in Ukraine, a surprise acknowledgement of friction with Beijing over the war after a week of stunning Russian losses on the ground.
“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told Xi at their first meeting since the war began. “We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks, nor was it mentioned in a Chinese readout of their meeting, which took place in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of a regional summit.
Beijing’s support is widely seen as essential for Moscow, which needs markets for its energy exports and sources to import high tech goods as it faces sanctions imposed by the West. The last time the two men met they signed a “no limits” friendship agreement between their two
countries. Three weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, China has trod a careful line, criticising Western sanctions against Russia but stopping short of endorsing or assisting the military campaign.
In Kyiv, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, held talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy where she told him
Ukraine’s accession process to the European Union was well on track.
White House spokesman John Kirby said China should reject Russia’s invasion: “The whole world should be lined up against what Mr Putin is
doing,” Kirby told CNN. “This is not the time for any kind of business as usual with Mr Putin.”
After a week of the fastest Ukrainian gains since the war’s early weeks, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were now fortifying defences and it would be hard for Kyiv’s troops to maintain the pace of their advance.
Putin has yet to publicly comment on the setback suffered by his forces after Ukrainian troops made a rapid armoured thrust through the front line last week. Russian troops have abandoned dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles in haste.
Kyiv says it recaptured more than 8,000 sq km (3000 sq miles), nearly equivalent to the size of the island of Cyprus. The speed of the advance has lifted Ukrainian morale, pleased Western backers who have provided arms, intelligence and training, and raised hopes of further significant gains before the winter sets in.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, said it would still be a tough fight to wrest control of his region back from Russia, which recognises it as an independent state controlled by separatists.
“The Kharkiv ‘instant scenario’ will not be repeated. We will have to fight hard for our region. The Russians are preparing for defence,” Gaidai
told Ukrainian TV, adding the Russians were digging in at the settlements of Svatove and Troitske.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said in an online post: “We should avoid euphoria. There is still a lot of work to be done to liberate our lands, and Russia has a large number of weapons.”
There was no let-up either in Russia’s daily missiles strikes on Ukraine, a day after it fired cruise missiles at a reservoir dam near Kryvyi Rih, President’s Zelenskiy’s hometown.
Authorities in the city of Kharkiv said Russian shells had hit a high-pressure gas pipeline, while a rescue operation was underway in the city of Bakhmut with four people suspected to be trapped under rubble after a strike, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk regional governor, said.
Russian forces had launched attacks on several settlements on the Kharkiv frontline in the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Thursday.
But Britain’s defence ministry said in an update that Ukraine’s forces were continuing to consolidate their control of newly liberated land in the region.
The United States, which has provided billions in aid to Ukraine, is expected to deliver a new security assistance package soon, White House spokesman Kirby told MSNBC in an interview on Thursday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned Washington to tread carefully, saying any decision to supply Kyiv with longer-range missiles for U.S.-made HIMARS systems would cross a “red line” and make the United States “a direct party to the conflict”.
WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATION
On Wednesday, the first teams of war crimes prosecutors, both Ukrainian and international, gained early access to begin investigating the vast swathes of recently liberated territory. They said initial indications were that widespread atrocities appear to have taken place.
Nigel Povoas, a British lawyer who went to the newly recaptured territory as part of an international team helping Ukraine with war crimes investigations, said the long Russian occupation of such a large area meant atrocities there were likely to have reached “an unprecedented level of horror”.
“Widespread civilian torture and executions appear to have occurred at make-shift detention centres around the region, for example, in Balakliia and Izium,” he said. The evidence so far was “following a similarly dreadful pattern” to that in cities occupied early in the war by Russian troops near Kyiv.
Russia denies that its forces commit war crimes, casting allegations as fabrications designed to besmirch the reputation of its armed forces
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