China, Russia deepen ties as Biden rallies NATO “front line” over Ukraine
By Guy Faulconbridge and Nandita Bose
MOSCOW/WARSAU (Reuters) – China on Wednesday pledged a deeper partnership with Russia, while US President Joe Biden reiterated security assurances for NATO’s eastern “frontline” members and highlighted global tensions as the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of closer to Ukraine.
However, a day after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was suspending its involvement in a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Washington, his deputy foreign minister tried to calm nerves by saying the move does not make nuclear war more likely.
In Ukraine, schools have held their classes online for the remainder of the week amid fears of a surge in Russian missile attacks a year after the February 24 wholesale attack in Moscow that failed to topple the government and has long stalled.
Wang Yi, the top Chinese official who has been visiting Russia since the countries announced a borderless partnership weeks before the invasion, told Putin Beijing is ready to intensify ties.
A time of crisis requires Russia and China to “continuously deepen our comprehensive strategic partnership,” Beijing’s top diplomat said.
Putin said he looks forward to a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow and a deeper partnership.
Xi is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on Friday, but Kiev says there can be no talk of peace as long as Russian troops are in Ukraine.
“This unprovoked and criminal Russian war against Ukraine, Europe and the democratic world must end with the cleansing of the entire Ukrainian land from the Russian occupation and solid guarantees for the long-term security of our state, all of Europe and the whole world. ‘ President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia is scheduled to begin military exercises with China in South Africa on Friday and has sent a frigate armed with new-generation hypersonic cruise missiles. A Russian officer said Wednesday Russia will fire artillery but not the missiles, whose speed makes them difficult to shoot down.
Russian aggression in Ukraine has changed the security landscape in Europe, Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the Warsaw meeting of nine eastern NATO members with Biden, who said Washington was determined to defend every inch of the alliance’s territory.
“They are the front line of our collective defense,” Biden said at the summit of countries that joined the Western military alliance after allying with Moscow during the Cold War.
Most are now among the strongest supporters of military aid to Ukraine, issuing a joint statement calling for an increased NATO presence on its eastern flank.
NUCLEAR TREATY SUSPENDED
Putin has responded to backlash in Ukraine with veiled threats to use nuclear weapons and on Tuesday suspended the nuclear arms control treaty, accusing Washington of turning the war into a global conflict by arming Ukraine.
Russia’s foreign and defense ministries later said Moscow would continue to abide by the pact’s limits on the number of nuclear warheads it could have deployed and the number of nuclear missile carriers. Russia’s lower house of parliament approved the move on Wednesday.
Tensions over Ukraine had already halted the treaty’s mutual inspections of nuclear arsenals, but Biden said Putin “made a mistake” in suspending the treaty.
He underscored his support for Kiev during a surprise visit to war-torn Ukraine on Monday, then rallied NATO allies in Poland and said the invasion had tested the world, but Washington and its allies had shown they could handle the would defend democracy.
He dismissed Russia’s claims that the West was trying to control or destroy Russia and accused Moscow of crimes against humanity such as attacks on civilians and rape. Russia denies committing war crimes or intentionally targeting civilians.
NATO allies and other supporters have sent tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. Since the New Year, they have been promising modern main battle tanks, although they cannot yet offer the Western fighter jets that Kiev is looking for.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Beijing against supplying arms to Moscow, sparking China’s anger.
Russia suffered three major setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine last year, but still controls nearly a fifth of the country. It has launched a massive offensive in the east in recent weeks and has so far made only marginal gains, despite some of the heaviest casualties of the war.
The Ukrainian military said the town of Bakhmut, the focus of Russian advances in the eastern region of Donetsk, came under fire along with 20 other settlements in the region.
The governor of the neighboring Luhansk region said Ukraine repelled intense Russian attacks around the city of Kreminna further north and destroyed several of its tanks.
“The breakthrough failed, the situation has stabilized,” Serhiy Haidai said on Ukrainian television.
Two civilians were killed in Russian shelling on Wednesday in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine and two were injured in a rocket attack on the northeastern city of Kharkiv, regional officials said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
The largest land war in Europe since World War II has displaced millions, reduced towns and villages to rubble and disrupted the global economy. The UN legal office has recorded more than 8,000 civilians killed, a figure it describes as “the tip of the iceberg”.
(This story has been corrected to correct the Chinese official’s name in paragraph 4.)
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Alan Charlish and the Reuters offices; writing by Grant McCool, Philippa Fletcher and Tomasz Janowski; editing by David Gregorio, Michael Perry, Peter Graff and William Maclean)