China has put on a united front with Russia as the Ukraine crisis escalates, with President Xi Jinping joining Vladimir Putin in opposing further NATO expansion.
In a joint statement issued on Friday after the Russian president met Xi in Beijing, the two powers called on NATO to “abandon the ideological approaches of the Cold War”.
The meeting, Xi’s first face-to-face talks with a world leader in nearly two years as his country hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, came as Western leaders upped diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday announced separate visits to Moscow and Kyiv in the coming weeks.
The United States and its European partners fear Russia may be ready to attack its neighbor given Moscow’s massing of more than 100,000 troops near the two countries shared border. But the Kremlin denies such plans and instead blames Washington and NATO for undermining the region’s security.
Here are all the latest updates:
Germany’s Scholz to visit Kyiv, Moscow
The German chancellor will travel to Ukraine on February 14 before heading onwards to Russia for a meeting with Putin a day later, a government spokesperson says.
The trip will mark Scholz’s first visit to both countries since he replaced former German leader Angela Merkel in December, and comes amid criticism that he has kept a comparatively low profile amid widespread diplomatic efforts aimed at defusing the crisis.
Berlin was also talking to Paris and Warsaw about organizing a meeting between Scholz and the leaders of France and Poland, the German government spokesperson added.
Moscow and Beijing tell NATO to stop expansion
Russia and China have issued a joint statement voicing opposition to any further NATO expansion.
The two powers’ called on the US-led alliance to abandon its “ideologized Cold War approaches”.
A halt to NATO’s eastwards addition of new member states is a key demand of the Kremlin in its standoff with the West over Ukraine. The US has rejected that proposal but said it is willing to discuss other topics such as arms control.
China supports Russia’s proposals to create legally binding security guarantees in Europe, the joint statement said.
Erdogan criticizes Western leaders’ efforts on Ukraine: Reports
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said US President Joe Biden and other Western nations have not helped resolve the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, and there were no European leaders fit to resolve it, according to Turkish media reports.
The comments come after Erdogan met Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Thursday and repeated an offer for Turkey to mediate the crisis with Moscow. He also proposed hosting a meeting of the Ukrainian and Russian leaders.
Speaking to reporters on his return flight from the Ukrainian capital, Erdogan was quoted as saying he “greatly values” a planned visit by Putin to Turkey, a NATO member.
Putin announces new gas contract during Xi meet
Russia’s president has unveiled a new gas deal with China, promising to up Moscow’s exports at a time when the Kremlin is at odds with European customers over Ukraine.
Russia is already Beijing’s third-largest gas supplier and has been strengthening ties with China – the world’s largest energy consumer – while reducing its dependence on its traditional buyers in Europe.
“Our oilmen have prepared very good new solutions on hydrocarbon supplies to the People’s Republic of China,” Putin said during his meeting with Xi.
“And a step forward was made in the gas industry, I mean a new contract on supplying 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year to China from Russia’s Far East,” he added.
Kremlin says Putin will discuss Russia’s security demands with Macron
Putin will talk to Macron about Russia’s demands for security guarantees from the West during the latter’s visit to Moscow next week, the Kremlin has said.
Russia considers the planned visit important, and Putin will tell the French leader his interpretation of Washington’s initial response to Russia’s demands, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.
Continuing the diplomatic effort, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to visit Moscow on February 15, Peskov said. But no agreement has yet been reached on a proposal from Turkey to host talks between Russia and Ukraine, he added.
Reporter confronts US spokesperson over Russia claims
Footage being shared on social media shows a tense exchange between Matt Lee, a reporter for The Associated Press, and US State Department spokesman Ned Price after the journalist asked for Washington to provide evidence to back up its recent allegations against Russia.
The US has repeatedly warned Russia may be ready to attack Ukraine and on Thursday accused Moscow of plotting to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that the Kremlin could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbor.
“It’s an action that you say they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that,” Lee said to Price during a news briefing in Washington, DC, on Thursday.
Price replied that the US ‘claim was “derived from intelligence information” and that officials only declassify information when they are confident in its accuracy.
– CSPAN (@cspan) February 3, 2022
Xi and Putin expected to discuss Ukraine
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, says Ukraine is expected to be high on the agenda during talks between Putin and Xi.
“They really have been trying to convey a united front – both leaders have experienced souring relations with the US and its allies over the recent years,” Yu said. “And China has signaled that it would support Russia economically should the US impose any sort of crippling sanctions.”
But, she added, Beijing would not “necessarily… welcome any potential attack on Ukraine”, citing the Chinese government’s good relations with Kyiv, an important trading partner that is also part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Putin hails close ties with China
Putin has praised his country’s close ties with China, describing relations as “developing progressively along the path of friendship and strategic partnership.”
“They are of a truly unprecedented nature,” the Russian leader said in televised remarks at the start of his meeting with Xi.
He added the two powers’ relations were an “example of a dignified relationship”.
Minsk agreement should be revised, Finland’s president says
The Minsk agreement should be revised to find a solution to the ongoing crisis between Ukraine and Russia, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto says.
The Minsk set of agreements was signed in 2014 and 2015 by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany as a response to the annexation of Crimea.
Niinisto said Putin had brought up the issue in a recent discussion between the pair.
Russia confirms 12-year sentence for ‘Ukrainian spy’: Report
A court in Crimea has rejected an appeal by an alleged Ukrainian spy and confirmed his 12-year prison sentence, the TASS news agency reports, citing the FSB security service.
Konstantin Shiring, the alleged spy, was sentenced last October by the Supreme Court of Crimea. Kyiv said at the time his case was politically motivated and demanded his release.
Russian media reports suggest Shiring denies being a spy.
EU chief warns Russia of ‘robust’ sanctions package
The European Union has prepared a “robust and comprehensive” package of sanctions to unleash on Russia if it continues to menace Ukraine, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said.
Von der Leyen told the Handelsblatt and Les Echos newspapers that these included “capping access to foreign capital” and “export controls, especially on technical goods”.
The controversial Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline was also part of the sanctions package. Whether the pipeline can go into operation depends on “on the behavior”, von der Leyen said.
“People close to Putin and oligarchs could of course be hit sensitively,” she added.
Russia denies leaking US security talks document
Russia has denied leaking the US’s written response to its security guarantee demands to Spanish newspaper El Pais after Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland accused Moscow of doing so.
The embassy to the US said the allegations made by Nuland in an interview with TASS were “bewildering”.
It said, “Instead of focusing on the essence of Russian concerns, the American side is engaging in conspiracy theories.”