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Zelenskyy, China’s Xi talk on phone


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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the phone for an hour Wednesday, and Xi pressed his position as a neutral peacemaker in the Russian-Ukrainian war that has dragged into a second year with no end in sight.

Xi appealed for negotiations, warning “there is no winner in a nuclear war,” Chinese state media reported, although Russia has dismissed claims it would resort to nuclear weapons and Ukraine no longer has them. Xi’s government will send a representative to Ukraine for talks about a possible political settlement, according to the report.

Zelenskyy provided an upbeat description of the call on social media: “I had a long and meaningful phone call with President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.”

During his nightly video address to the country, Zelenskyy said Xi had “words of support” for extending the Black Sea grain agreement, which Russia has threatened to abandon when it expires May 18 if the Kremlin’s demands are not met.

White House spokesman John Kirby called the direct communication between Xi and Zelenskyy “a good thing.” The Biden administration, he said, has been stressing the importance of China getting the Ukrainian perspective.

“Now, whether that’s going to lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan or proposal, I just don’t think we know that right now,” Kirby told reporters. 

China has claimed neutrality in the war, refusing to criticize Russia for the invasion and declining to participate in Western sanctions. Beijing also has denied speculation that it would supply Russia with much-needed weaponry and ammunition.

Developments:

►Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Wednesday he’s facing new extremism and terrorism charges that could keep him behind bars for life, calling the extremism accusation “absurd” and questioning how he could be “conducting terror attacks while sitting in prison.”

►Fighting on the outskirts of Bakhmut has intensified in recent days as Ukraine seeks to maintain control of a primary supply route, the British Defense Ministry said in its most recent assessment of the war.

►Explosions at Russian military facilities in occupied Crimea do not violate the Black Sea grain deal, Ukraine officials said. The Russian Ministry of Defense accused Ukraine of violating the agreement by attacking Russia’s fleet in Sevastopol.

►Italian journalist Corrado Zunino was injured and his interpreter Bogdan Bitik killed in the southern city of Kherson. Zunino told the newspaper La Repubblica, for which he was a correspondent, he suspected they were attacked by Russian snipers.

►At least two people were killed and 10 wounded when a Russian missile hit a museum building in the northeastern city of Kupiansk on Tuesday, officials said.

CHINA AFFIRMS UKRAINE SOVEREIGNITY: China disavows diplomat’s claim after outcry, affirms Ukraine’s sovereignty

More than 98% of the combat vehicles pledged by Western countries before the expected Ukraine spring counteroffensive have been delivered, NATO’s top military commander told a congressional committee Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

“The Ukrainians are in a good position,” Gen. Christopher Cavoli, also the top commander of U.S. forces in Europe, told the House Armed Services Committee. 

Ukraine has been gearing up to try to reclaim Russian-occupied territory with an offensive U.S. officials expect to begin in May, the newspaper said. The pace of weapons deliveries has increased enough for officials to believe Ukraine will be well supplied.

“I am very confident that we have delivered the matériel that they need and we’ll continue a pipeline to sustain their operations as well,” Cavoli said.

Russia is capable of funding the war for at least another year despite the growing economic pressure of sanctions, according to a Washington Post report based on leaked U.S. military documents.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies are impacting the businesses of economic elites, but not enough that they would figure to turn their back on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a top secret assessment indicates.

“Moscow is relying on increased corporate taxes, its sovereign wealth fund, increased imports and businesses adaptability to help mitigate economic pressures,” the assessment says.

Spanish King Felipe VI said lasting peace for Ukraine “must be based on respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity” during a meeting Wednesday with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who earlier this month accused the West of prolonging the war by supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Lula, as the Brazilian leader is commonly known, has pushed the warring parties to negotiate and recently tempered his criticism of the West’s intervention. Still, his differences on the topic with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were evident at a joint news conference earlier in the day. Spain has supplied tanks and other weapons to Ukraine.

“There is no doubt that we condemn Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s rights with the invasion,” Lula said, “but it is of no use to say who is right or wrong. The war must be stopped.”

Brazil’s population of 219 million people ranks seventh in the world and is the second-largest in the Western Hemisphere. Lula, now in his third term as the country’s leader, has offered to help mediate peace talks.

Sánchez trod a fine line on Ukraine, thanking Lula for his peace proposal but saying that “in this war, there is an aggressor and a victim, and the aggressor is Putin.”

Zelenskyy marks anniversary of Chernobyl catastrophe with a warning

Zelenskyy marked the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster by placing flowers at two Kyiv memorials and warning that Russia could fuel another nuclear catastrophe with military attacks near the plants.

Russian forces occupied the Chernobyl plant for a few weeks early in the war before withdrawing. The Chernobyl meltdown resulted in scores of deaths and contamination over a wide area.

“Thirty-seven years ago, the Chernobyl NPP accident left a huge scar on the whole world,” Zelenskyy said in a Twitter post. “It’s been more than a year since the liberation of the plant from the invader. We must do everything to prevent the terrorist state from using nuclear power facilities to blackmail (Ukraine) and the world.”

Russian forces have been stationed at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest, since capturing the site early in the war. International nuclear experts have warned that fighting near the plant has jeopardized safety.

Zelenskyy said he spoke Wednesday with Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“I stressed that only the return of full control over (the Zaporizhzhia plant) will protect the world from a new disaster,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine launches Brave1, digital effort to aid war effort

Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation unveiled an initiative to create a single platform for defense tech companies, the state and the military, investors, volunteer funds, the media and “everyone who helps to bring victory closer through technology.”

The system, Brave1, is being designed to include drone technology, situational awareness systems, artificial intelligence and satellite data, among other uses. The goal is to build a system with a quick launch of defense tech projects, ministry chief Mykhailo Fedorov said.

“Make bold decisions, create the best conditions for the development of companies that develop military technologies,” Fedorov said.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAYThe Associated Press



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