US warns China against helping Russia as anti-war protester disrupts state TV news

Both Moscow and Beijing have denied US claims of Russia asking China for aid. PHOTO: REUTERS

LVIV, UKRAINE (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The United States warned China after "intense" talks on Monday (March 14) not to help Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, while an anti-war protester interrupted Russian state TV news.

The US has warned European allies that Russia asked China for armed drones in late February as it was beginning its invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

Moscow has not captured any of the 10 biggest cities in Ukraine since beginning its incursion on Feb 24, the most significant attack on a European state since World War Two.

It calls its actions a "special military operation" to "denazify" the country and has asked for military and economic aid from Beijing, according to US officials.

Moscow denies that, saying it has sufficient resources to fulfil all of its aims.

China's foreign ministry labelled the reports on assistance as "disinformation".

China had signalled willingness to provide aid to Russia, a US official said, as national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome.

"We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won't stand by," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Monday.

"We will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses."

The seven-hour meeting was "intense" and reflected "the gravity of the moment", according to a US official.

The West is weighing how to deal with any involvement from China, top global exporter and the No. 1 foreign supplier of goods to Americans.

In Russia, a rare anti-war protest occurred in a studio during the main news programme on state TV's Channel One, which is the primary source of news for millions of Russians and closely follows the Kremlin line.

A woman held up a sign in English and Russian that said: "NO WAR. Stop the war. Don't believe propaganda. They are lying to you here."

The protester could be seen and heard for several seconds before the channel switched to a different report so she was no longer visible.

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The humanitarian crisis remains bleak in Ukraine, and more than 2.8 million people have fled.

Moscow on Monday allowed the first convoy to escape besieged Mariupol, home to the worst humanitarian crisis of the conflict.

"In the first two hours, 160 cars left," Andrei Rempel, a representative of the Mariupol city council told Reuters.

"The city continues to be bombed but this road is not being shelled."

But local authorities say as many as 2,500 civilians have died so far, a toll that cannot be independently confirmed.

Russia says it does not target civilians.

But Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, later said Russia had yet again blocked a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city with supplies.

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Obtaining safe passage for aid to reach Mariupol and civilians to get out has been Kyiv's main demand at several rounds of talks. All previous attempts at a local ceasefire in the area have failed.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry said a pregnant woman who was photographed being evacuated wounded from a maternity hospital in Mariupol bombed by Russia last week had since died along with her baby. Reuters was not able to verify this.

Despite video showing at least two pregnant women being carried out of the ruins, Russia has said the hospital was not used at the time and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.

Drone video footage released by Ukrainian forces in Mariupol showed a desolate wasteland of bombed out buildings, many in flames, with smoke pouring into the sky.

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Russian and Ukrainian delegations held a fourth round of talks on Monday - by video link rather than in person in neighbouring Belarus as in the past - but no new progress was announced.

"Communication is being held yet it's hard," tweeted Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak, who had earlier created some hope of headway by saying on Sunday that Russia was beginning to talk "constructively".

The talks had paused for the day but would resume on Tuesday. Russia "still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against (Ukrainian) peaceful cities is the right strategy", he said.

Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky posted on social media that Russia was sticking to its key objectives: "We're aiming to do everything possible for the achievement of the goals set by Vladimir Putin, for Russia's peaceful future."

European Union (EU) member states had agreed on a fourth package of sanctions against Russia, according to France.

Details were not officially disclosed, but diplomatic sources said they would include an import ban on Russian steel and iron, an export ban on luxury goods and a ban on investment in the energy sector.

Chelsea soccer team owner Roman Abramovich and 14 others would be added to the EU blacklist.

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The war has caused a surge in commodity prices, threatening the global recovery as inflation in the developed world is already at its highest since the 1980s, many poor countries are facing a food crisis and the pandemic is still being felt.

Russia is the world's biggest exporter of combined oil and gas, and Russia and Ukraine together supply nearly a third of the world's grain exports, as well as metals and chemicals used worldwide in industry and agriculture.

Russia itself has been cast into economic isolation never before visited on such a big economy.

Its forces have been bearing down on Kyiv from the north-east and north-west, but have made little progress so far towards the capital itself, despite heavy fighting that has reduced suburbs on its outskirts to rubble.

In Kyiv itself, an apartment block was hit by a missile overnight, killing at least one person, officials said.

"The staircase was not there anymore, everything was on fire," apartment resident Maksim Korovii said.

He and his mother ran out to the balcony.

"We managed to put on whatever clothes we had at hand and made our way from balcony to balcony and in the end we climbed down by the next building's entrance."

Locals carrying sandbags to bolster Odessa's defences, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on March 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

In the south, where Russia has made more progress, residents of Odessa, a polyglot Black Sea port of 1 million people, fear their city could be next. They formed a human chain on Monday, singing patriotic songs as they carried sandbags from the beach.

In Donetsk, held since 2014 by Russian-backed separatists, Russia's defence ministry said at least 20 people had been killed and 28 wounded by what it said was a Ukrainian missile with a cluster charge. It released footage of a missile on a busy street and vehicles destroyed by shrapnel.

Ukraine accused Russia or its allies of carrying out that attack themselves as a pretext: "It is unmistakably a Russian rocket or another munition," Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said. Reuters could not verify either account.

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