While the leaders of China and Russia were pledging increased cooperation Tuesday in Moscow, the head of another Asian power made a strong statement of his own with a surprise visit to Kyiv.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida became the final leader of a Group of Seven country to show support for war-torn Ukraine by traveling to Kyiv, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Kishida also paid tribute to the victims of alleged Russian atrocities at a site outside the capital.
Kishida’s unexpected trip took some of the thunder away from the summit Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted some 500 miles away with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. The two visits highlighted the war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind one combatant or the other.
Though China professes neutrality, it has condemned Western sanctions and promoted a peace proposal that doesn’t call for Russia to withdraw its troops, effectively sealing its territorial gains in the provinces it has illegally annexed. Ukraine rejects those terms outright.
Putin said the Chinese plan could provide a basis for a negotiated settlement and accused Ukraine’s Western allies of not wanting the fighting to end.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Tuesday saying, “Kishida stands with freedom, and Xi stands with a war criminal.”
►China has shipped more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to Russia since it invaded Ukraine, despite Beijing’s claim of neutrality, The New York Times reported, citing official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider.
►NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has no proof that China is providing weapons to Russia, but officials are aware that Russia has sought military equipment from Beijing, the German news outlet Deutsche Welle reports.
►Ukraine received another $1.6 billion from the European Union’s $18 billion aid package, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced. “Our support helps keep Ukraine running while defending itself,” she said. “Together, we’re writing Ukraine’s European future.”
►30,000 tons of wheat arrived in Kenya as part of the Grain from Ukraine humanitarian program. “Despite Russian aggression, we won’t give up our participation in overcoming global challenges,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
Kishida placed flowers outside a church in Bucha, the town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities, hours after arriving for his unexpected visit.
“I’m outraged by the cruelty,” he said. “I represent the Japanese citizens to express my condolences to those who lost their lives.”
Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova welcomed Kishida, joining him in Bucha and at a memorial to soldiers in Kyiv.
“Ukraine is grateful to government of Japan for helping us to overcome difficult winter & providing generators to our people,” Dzhaparova tweeted. “With such partners as Japan, we will rebuild our country.”
A “mysterious” explosion in occupied Crimea destroyed multiple Russian cruise missiles being transported by rail that probably were being prepared to devastate Ukrainian cities, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry says.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the minister of internal affairs, posted video on social media of an explosion, apparently in the city of Dzhankoi in northern Crimea. Ukraine hinted at responsibility; military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk described the strike as a signal to Russia that it should leave the Black Sea peninsula it took from Ukraine by force in 2014.
“Right now, the way ahead is clear – they (Russian forces) need to make their way out by rail already,” she said Tuesday on Ukrainian TV.
Russia has been firing the missiles, which have a range of 1,600 miles or more, from ships in its Black Sea fleet. The defense ministry statement said the blast “continues the process of Russia’s demilitarization and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for deoccupation.”
Russian state media made no mention of the missiles but said a 33-year-old man was injured by a falling drone in Dzhankoi. Mayor Igor Ivin said multiple drones were reported and the attack damaged power lines, a house, a store and a college building.
The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine with the aim of getting the 70-ton vehicles to the war zone in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials told The Associated Press. The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain.
The officials spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been publicly announced. Still, the tanks won’t arrive for a Ukrainian spring offensive that is expected to begin next month.
The Abrams, among the most advanced tanks in the world, has thick armor, a 120 mm main gun, armor-piercing capabilities and advanced targeting systems. The tanks have a top speed of about 42 mph.
Russia’s spring offensive in Ukraine is “likely approaching culmination,” and Kremlin forces appear to be intensifying efforts to consolidate modest gains realized in recent weeks before losing the initiative, a Washington-based think tank reports. The Institute for the Study of War says in its most recent assessment that Russian forces made marginal gains in and around the brutally contested eastern city of Bakhmut and stepped up fighting around nearby Avdiivka.
Russian advances could prompt Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut or Avdiivka, the assessment says, but it adds that neither retreat appears likely.
“This increased tempo of Russian operations in the Avdiivka area has reportedly led to major losses and is likely a misguided effort to pull Ukrainian forces away from other areas of the front,” the assessment says. It says Russian forces are unlikely to sustain this increased tempo.
Thousands of Russian convicts who have fought with Wagner Group mercenaries are expected to be pardoned and released within the next few weeks. Wagner prisoner recruitment peaked in autumn 2022, and inmates are being offered commutation of their sentences after six months, the British Defense Ministry says. Although about half of the prisoners probably have been killed or wounded, evidence from Russia suggests the group is “following through on its promise” to free survivors, the ministry said in its most recent assessment of the war.
Wagner mercenaries have led the Russian charge in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, particularly in the battered city of Bakhmut. The region has been the scene of the war’s most brutal battles in recent months.
“With Wagner now likely banned from recruiting more prisoners, this exodus will worsen its personnel problems,” the assessment says. It adds that the “sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience will likely present a significant challenge for Russia’s war-time society.”
The U.S. and its allies are trying to turn the world against Russia by sowing hatred against the country and attempting to discredit it, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev said Tuesday. Patrushev said an independent Russia “does not suit the United States, which hides behind its own made-up theory of American exceptionalism.” Patrushev accused the U.S. of “toying with the norms of international law” and trying to impose its own values on the world – on U.S. terms.
Contributing: The Associated Press