BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Russia is ready to send a delegation to the Belarusian capital Minsk for talks with Ukraine, a Kremlin spokesman said on Friday (Feb 25), as President Vladimir Putin told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Russia was willing to conduct high-level negotiations with Ukraine.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that Russia was willing to send a delegation including foreign and defence ministry officials.
Ukraine has said it is willing to discuss declaring itself a neutral county.
Mr Peskov said demilitarisation would need to be an essential part of that.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a call with Mr Putin, said he supported solving the Ukraine crisis through talks.
In a readout of the call on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Friday, Mr Xi pointed out that the "situation in eastern Ukraine has undergone rapid changes... (and) China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation".
Russian forces have launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing air strikes and sending troops deep into the country, after weeks of diplomatic efforts failed to deter Mr Putin from launching the military operation.
Beijing has trod a cautious diplomatic line on the crisis and refused to call it an "invasion" or condemn the actions of Russia, its close ally.
Mr Xi said on the call with Mr Putin that it was important to "abandon the Cold War mentality, attach importance to and respect the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations".
According to the Chinese media readout, Mr Putin outlined the reasons for Russia launching the "special military operation", and told Mr Xi that Nato and the United States had "long ignored Russia's legitimate security concerns, repeatedly reneged on their commitments and kept pushing military deployments to the east, challenging Russia's strategic red line".
"Russia is willing to conduct high-level negotiations with Ukraine," he told Mr Xi on the call.
As the crisis escalated, China has been forced to balance its close Russia ties with major economic interests in Europe.
And Moscow's approach is in stark contrast to China's longstanding stated foreign policy position of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs.
Mr Xi said China was "willing to work with all parties in the international community to advocate a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept, and firmly safeguard the international system with the United Nations at the core", according to the CCTV readout.