KYIV - The United States warned China of serious consequences if it provided arms to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Kyiv’s top general visited the front-line town of Bakhmut where Ukrainian defenders are holding out against constant attacks.
Washington and its Nato allies are scrambling to dissuade China from providing military aid for Moscow’s war, making public comments on their belief that Beijing is considering providing lethal equipment, possibly including drones.
Western fears of China helping to arm Russia come as Moscow’s forces struggle to make gains around key objectives in eastern Ukraine, and as Kyiv prepares a counter-offensive with advanced Western weapons including battle tanks.
“Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it proceeds, whether it provides military assistance – but if it goes down that road, it will come at real costs to China,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s State Of The Union programme.
While China had not moved forward in providing that aid, neither had it taken the option off the table, Mr Sullivan said in a separate interview on ABC’s This Week programme.
Beijing has refused to condemn Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, most recently at a meeting of the Group of 20 in India on Saturday. It published a ceasefire proposal on Friday, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the offer was met with scepticism among Ukraine’s Western allies.
“When I hear reports – and I don’t know whether they are true – according to which China may be planning to supply kamikaze drones to Russia while at the same time presenting a peace plan, then I suggest we judge China by its actions and not its words,” German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Sunday.
Republican Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, cited reports that drones were among the weapons China was considering sending to Russia.
Mr McCaul said Chinese leader Xi Jinping was preparing to visit Moscow next week for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Putin cast the Ukraine war, which he calls a “special military operation”, as a confrontation with the West that threatens the survival of Russia and the Russian people.
Nato and the West dismiss this narrative, saying their objective in providing weapons and other aid to Kyiv is to help Ukraine defend itself against an unprovoked attack.
Kyiv struck a receptive tone on some aspects of China’s ceasefire proposal while reiterating that there could be no peace without a total Russian withdrawal – a non-starter for Moscow.
“I really want (victory) to happen this year. For this we have everything – motivation, confidence, friends, diplomacy,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app on Monday.
China’s Foreign Ministry said it had kept contact with all sides in the crisis, including Kyiv, and its position was clear.
“The core is to call for peace and promote dialogue and promote a political solution to the crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a news briefing in Beijing on Monday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Chinese plan should be analysed in detail and account for the interests of all sides, but for now Moscow saw no signs suggesting a peaceful resolution was feasible.
“We are paying a great deal of attention to the plan of our Chinese friends... This is a very long and intense process,” Mr Peskov told reporters.
Mr Putin’s framing of the war as a threat to Russia’s existence allows the Kremlin chief greater freedom in the types of weapons he could one day use, including possibly nuclear weapons.
Mr Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and an ally of Mr Putin, said in remarks published on Monday that the supply of Western arms to Kyiv risked a global nuclear catastrophe.
Ukraine’s outnumbered but better organised and nimbler forces repelled Russia’s attempt to seize Kyiv early in the war and later retook swathes of occupied territory in the east and south.
But after a year of war that has killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides and laid waste to Ukrainian cities, Moscow still controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine, which it claims to have annexed.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Monday that its forces had destroyed a Ukrainian ammunition depot near the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, also shooting down four Himars missiles and five drones launched by Ukrainian forces.
Russia’s forces are focusing on taking full control of the eastern Donbas industrial region, but have managed only minor advances despite being replenished by hundreds of thousands of conscripts and reservists.
In Luhansk province, the largely Russian-occupied northern half of the Donbas, Moscow has escalated shelling and infantry assaults in the embattled Bilohoryvka, Svatove-Kupiansk and Kreminna areas, Ukraine’s Luhansk governor said on Monday.
“There is no fleeing, our units do not leave territory... Of course, everything can change at any moment,” Mr Serhiy Haidai told state television.
“On the other hand, Western offensive heavy equipment is on the way, and therefore in any week the military command can conduct an operation following the same plan as they did in the Kharkiv region.” he said, referring to Ukraine’s recapture of a north-eastern sector from Russian forces last year. REUTERS