(Lviv) Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday that military conflicts were “in no one’s interest”, during an exchange with his American counterpart Joe Biden, who urges China to distance itself from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian crisis is not something we wanted to see” happen, said the Chinese head of state, according to comments reported by Chinese television.
“As permanent members of the UN Security Council and as the world’s top two economies, it is our responsibility not only to lead China-US relations on the right track, but also to shoulder our international responsibilities and work for peace and tranquility in the world,” he assured his counterpart, according to the same source, as the United States urges China to clearly distance itself from Russia.
According to a brief report broadcast by the public channel CCTV, the Chinese president also considered that “relations between States cannot go as far as armed confrontation”.
The videoconference exchange between the two leaders lasted nearly two hours, starting at 9:03 a.m. and ending at 11:53 a.m. according to the White House, which did not immediately communicate on its content.
Joe Biden came for this conversation from the “Situation Room”, this ultra-secure room of the White House from where the United States conducts its most risky operations and its most arduous negotiations.
Wendy Sherman, number two in American diplomacy, had clearly set out the stakes of the conversation on Friday on CNN: “We want the Chinese Communist Party, which is a very important power on the international scene […] understand that its future is with the United States, with Europe, with other developed and developing countries. Their future is not to support Vladimir Putin. »
Conciliatory remarks, after the more threatening tone adopted Thursday by the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken.
“We are concerned that they plan to directly assist Russia with military equipment that would be used in Ukraine. President Biden will speak to President Xi tomorrow, and make it clear to him that China will bear responsibility for any act to support Russian aggression, and that we will not hesitate to impose costs on it,” the Secretary of State said. ‘state to the press.
“We see with concern that China is considering giving Russia direct military assistance,” he added.
This is the clearest warning issued by the United States since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, which had already criticized China for its “alignment” with Russia.
For Joe Biden, the two superpowers are certainly destined to engage in ruthless competition on the economic and strategic level, but by maintaining sufficient dialogue so that this confrontation is not a factor of chaos at the international level.
But this vision of the American president would not resist open support from China to Russia, manifested by arms deliveries, or by economic and financial agreements giving Moscow the means to at least partially circumvent the very severe Western sanctions.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, the Chinese communist regime, nursing its relationship with Moscow and sharing with Russia a deep hostility towards the United States, has refrained from calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine.
But the ‘boundless friendship’ professed by Beijing and Moscow is being tested by war, with President Xi Jinping’s regime appearing to have been taken aback by Ukrainian resistance and the strength of closely coordinated US sanctions. and their allies, designed to cut Russia off from global economic and financial exchanges.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of “draging” talks on the conflict and said Kyiv had “unrealistic” demands after a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Bombings near Lviv airport
The surroundings of Lviv airport, in western Ukraine, were hit by Russian “missiles” on Friday morning, according to the city’s mayor.
“Missiles hit the Lviv airport district,” wrote Andriy Sadovy, the mayor of this large city near the Polish border, hitherto spared from the fighting, on his Facebook account. He assured that the strike did not directly hit the airport facilities but an aircraft repair factory, without causing any casualties.
“It’s a strike on the city of Lviv, a humanitarian platform where there are more than 200,000 displaced people” and it shows “that they are fighting not against soldiers but against the population”, affirmed Maksym Kozytsky, the regional governor of Lviv, reporting a minor injury.
An AFP reporter saw a plume of smoke rising into the air above the area.
“We have heard the alarm. We have been warned but […] we didn’t take shelter because we weren’t afraid of anything,” said Olga, 56. “At night, we pray for all our cities under Putin’s vicious attack. »
Fighting in Mariupol
Mr Biden has been outspoken about Mr Putin, calling him a “thug” and a “bloody dictator” after calling him a “war criminal” the day before earlier this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Westerners on Thursday to help “stop this war” as Russian strikes left at least 27 dead in the east of the country.
“A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, applauded by the deputies of the German Bundestag to whom he addressed by videoconference.
Fighting continues to rage in the country. In Mariupol, a besieged strategic port in southeastern Ukraine, the Russian army announced Friday that it is now fighting in the city center.
“Units of the People’s Republic [autoproclamée, NDLR] of Donetsk, with the support of the Russian armed forces, tighten their grip of encirclement and fight the nationalists in the center of the city”, indicated the spokesman of the ministry, Igor Konashenkov.
He also assured that the Russian forces and the separatists of Luhansk now control 90% of this territory which is part with Donetsk of the Donbass region and whose independence Moscow has recognized.
Taking Mariupol would be an important turning point in the conflict and would allow Russia to ensure territorial continuity between its forces coming from annexed Crimea and the troops from Donbass.
The Ukrainians also accused the Russian air force on Wednesday of having “knowingly” bombed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of inhabitants were refugees, which Russia denied. According to Ukrainian human rights envoy Lioudmyla Denisova, 130 people have already been rescued from the rubble, but it remains impossible to establish a balance sheet.
“More than 130 people were able to be saved. But hundreds of residents of Mariupol are still under the rubble,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video while promising to continue relief operations “despite the shelling” which continues in this major port city.
The town hall of Mariupol reported that the situation was “critical” with “uninterrupted” Russian bombardments and “colossal” destruction.
According to initial estimates, around 80% of the city’s housing stock was destroyed.
“They fire so many rockets, there are a lot of bodies of dead civilians in the streets,” Tamara Kavounenko, 58, told AFP.
Bombardments also continue in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, where at least 500 people have been killed since the start of the war.
According to the Ukrainian emergency service, Russian gunfire hit “a higher education institution” and “two nearby apartment buildings”, killing one and injuring 11 in Kharkiv on Friday.
The capital has been emptied of at least half of its 3.5 million inhabitants. According to the town hall, 222 people, including 60 civilians, have been killed in Kyiv since the start of the invasion.
In the suburb of Zaporizhia (southeast), Moscow said it had fired two short-range ballistic missiles at Ukrainian positions from which missiles were fired towards Melitopol (south), invested by Russian forces.
No precise global assessment was provided even if President Zelensky mentioned on March 12 the death of “about 1300” Ukrainian soldiers, while Moscow only reported nearly 500 dead in its ranks on March 2.
According to the March 16 tally from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Ukraine consulted by AFP, stressing that its figures are probably much lower than the reality, at least 780 civilians – including 58 children — were killed in Ukraine and more than 1250 injured.
Three weeks after the start of the invasion, Moscow shows no sign of respite in its offensive and accuses Kyiv of “dragging” talks between the belligerents.
“It has been noted that the Kyiv regime is trying by all means to drag out the negotiation process, by putting forward new unrealistic proposals,” the Kremlin said on Friday, summarizing Mr. Putin’s remarks to Olaf Scholz.
The Russian president is also due to speak with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, around noon on Friday, according to the Kremlin.
Plus tôt dans la journée, M. Poutine a disparu des écrans en plein discours au cours d’un grand concert à Moscou célébrant l’annexion de la Crimée ukrainienne en 2014, le Kremlin expliquant l’incident par une panne technique.
Vladimir Poutine était en train de louer l’héroïsme des soldats russes engagés en Ukraine, devant des dizaines de milliers de personnes dans un stade, quand soudain la chaîne de télévision publique russe Rossiya-24 a commencé à montrer d’autres moments du même évènement, discours officiels et chansons populaires.
Quinze minutes après, la télévision a repris la diffusion de l’intervention du président russe en différé.
Le porte-parole du Kremlin, Dmitri Peskov, a ensuite indiqué aux agences russes que la retransmission avait été interrompue à cause d’une « panne technique sur un serveur ».
Moscou « ne ferme pas la porte à l’Ouest »
La Russie a indiqué vouloir négocier avec Kyiv un statut de neutralité et démilitarisé. Les autorités ukrainiennes, sans balayer l’idée d’une neutralité et en semblant renoncer à une adhésion à l’OTAN, ont, elles, réclamé la désignation de pays garants de sa sécurité et qui la défendraient militairement en cas d’agression par Moscou.
Le ministre des Affaires étrangères russe Sergueï Lavrov a affirmé sur la chaîne Russia Today que Moscou « ne ferme pas la porte à l’Ouest », tout en dénonçant une « tentative » de Washington de créer un « monde unipolaire ». M. Blinken a quant à lui estimé jeudi que la Russie n’avait pas démontré jusqu’ici « d’effort significatif » pour trouver une sortie de crise.
« Nous n’avions pas prévu de faire des milliers de prisonniers. Nous n’avons pas besoin […] of thousands of dead Russian soldiers,” President Zelensky hammered home in his final video speech on Thursday evening. “We didn’t want this war. We only want peace”.
More than 3.2 million Ukrainians have taken the road to exile, nearly two-thirds of them to Poland, sometimes only a stage before continuing their exodus.
Ukraine’s humanitarian needs are ‘increasingly urgent’, with more than 200,000 people without water in the Donetsk region alone and ‘serious shortages’ of food, water and medicine in towns such as Mariupol or Sumy, UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said on Friday.