11 July 2024

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin cemented friendship between China and Russia and jointly criticised the West, which moved to buttress Ukraine against Moscow’s invasion with nearly $16 billion in financial aid and faster delivery of battle tanks.

The Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow, long touted by the Kremlin as a show of support from its most powerful friend, featured plenty of demonstrative bonhomie on Tuesday. Xi and the Russian president referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation and described their countries’ relations as the best they have ever been.

A joint statement included familiar accusations against the West – that the United States was undermining global stability and NATO barging into the Asia-Pacific region. The West has sought to isolate Russia over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and Putin faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court and global sanctions against his government and economy.

Putin praised Xi for a peace plan for Ukraine that he proposed last month and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting it. But Xi, who was due to depart Moscow on Wednesday, barely mentioned the conflict, saying that China had an “impartial position” on it.

Responding to the meeting, the White House said China’s position was not impartial, and urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory to end the war.

SENDING MONEY, TANKS TO KYIV

In Washington, the International Monetary Fund, a UN agency over which the United States holds major control, announced that after months of negotiations it reached preliminary agreement with Kyiv on a four-year loan package of about $15.6 billion.

The money would help shore up Ukraine, which has suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure and economy during Russia’s year-long invasion. The IMF said it expects Ukraine’s economy to show growth in 2023 of -3% to 1%.

Separately, the United States intends to speed up delivery to Ukraine of 31 Abrams battle tanks to the autumn, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.

According to a congressional aide briefed on the matter, this would be about a year sooner than the timeline anticipated when Washington pledged the tanks in January. Kyiv had clamoured for the vehicles as well as other sophisticated Western military hardware.

The Pentagon said a decision to send a variant of the tank that can run on diesel fuel like most of the Ukrainian fleet made faster delivery possible.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy once again implored Ukraine’s allies to provide more military aid including ammunition and to do it without delay.

“One of the questions which always commands the utmost attention is the supply of ammunition, support from our partners. We expect increased supplies of exactly what we need – and we need it right now,” he said in a video address on Tuesday. European Union countries on Monday pledged to send 1 million artillery rounds over the next year to Ukraine, which has been burning through them faster than allies can supply them.

QUEUING FOR FOOD, WATER

On the ground, bursts of incoming and outgoing artillery fire could be heard in the town of Chasiv Yar just west of Bakhmut, a small eastern city that has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Tuesday that the fiercest fighting continued to take place near Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the south.

Between apartment blocks in Chasiv Yar, mainly elderly residents queued for water and food delivered by a team from the State Emergency Service.

Oleksii Stepanov said he had been in Bakhmut until five days ago but was evacuated when his house was destroyed by a missile. “We were in the kitchen and the missile came through the roof. The kitchen was all that was left standing,” said the 54-year-old.

Moscow has launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.

Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, the front line has barely moved for four months except in Bakhmut where Russian forces made gains in January and February. Ukraine decided this month not to pull its forces out of the ruined city.