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The White House urges China to get Ukraine’s perspective on the war as Xi heads to Russia (updated)
“We think it's really important for the Chinese to get the Ukrainian perspective here, and not just Mr. Putin's,” NSC’s John Kirby said March 16.
The White House offered robust endorsement of a prospective virtual meeting between China’s President Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after the foreign ministers of China and Ukraine spoke. China announced on Friday that Xi would travel to Russia at Russian President Putin’s invitation for a state visit from March 20-21.
“We have long been encouraging President Xi to talk to President Zelensky,” National Security Council strategic communications official John Kirby told reporters on a Zoom call Thursday (March 16).
“We think it's really important for the Chinese to get the Ukrainian perspective here, and not just Mr. Putin's,” Kirby said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday that he did not think the Chinese were currently planning to send lethal arms to support Russia.
“I don't think China has reached the moment now when it's ready to arm Russia,” Kuleba told the BBC in an interview. “Nor do I think that this visit will result in peace.”
The comments came after Kuleba had separate phone calls with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Thursday, noting in readouts of both calls that he had discussed Ukraine’s “peace formula.”
“During my call with China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang today, we discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity,” Kuleba tweeted. “I underscored the importance of @Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula for ending the aggression and restoring just peace in Ukraine.”
“China hopes Russia and Ukraine will keep alive the possibility of dialogue and negotiation and not close the door to a political solution, no matter how difficult and challenging it may be,” China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart in the call, China’s Global Times reported.
Though Reuters reported this week that Xi could travel to Russia to meet with Putin as soon as next week, the Chinese foreign ministry and Kremlin had been coy about confirming the trip.
The NSC’s Kirby expressed concern that China’s recent 12-point plan on its approach to trying to get a political settlement in Russia’s war on Ukraine is one-sided.
“We would certainly be concerned by any proposals coming out of the PRC that would be one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective,” he said.
China’s plan “calls for a ceasefire,” Kirby said. “And, while that sounds perfectly reasonable, and it sounds like a good thing, a ceasefire right now would basically ratify Russia’s conquest. It would… allow Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukraine ground.”
“So a ceasefire right now, in our view, would constitute another continued violation of the UN Charter,” Kirby said. “If a peace is going to be enduring, if it's going to be a just peace, if it's going to be sustainable, it can't be one sided, and it has to absolutely include and be informed by Ukrainian perspectives and Ukrainian decision-making,” Kirby said.
Some NATO and European officials have, however, privately expressed concerns that Russia has simply more manpower to put into a long war, even while they express political and moral support for the western effort to robustly support Ukraine to make territorial gains.
“In terms of mass, we have two very different countries, » a European official, speaking not for attribution, said last week. “One”—Russia— “with 150 million inhabitants, with more than three million soldiers on the ground. The other one” —Ukraine— “with 45 million people. So it is obviously something unbalanced in terms of forces on the ground.”
The Ukrainian forces also “have no clarity or certainty on the volume of forces that they will be able to have on the ground, and they have to deal with very different kinds of equipment,” being provided by western allies, the official said. “And they cannot have full control of their human resources and troops because they have to have them trained and equipped by other countries.”
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried says he has heard similar assessments since Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine began last year, including from senior American military officers, and noted that they hadn’t yet come to pass.
“I've heard variations of this argument for a year and the argument goes,… Ukrainians don't have a chance,” Fried, now with the Atlantic Council, said in an interview. “And we heard this, I mean, the Biden administration had made the assumption at the outset even before the war, that the best the Ukrainians could do was mount a post-invasion, post-occupation resistance.”
“So I have heard this story consistently,” Fried said. “Which doesn't mean it's wrong. Okay. I'm not saying the Ukrainians will win. They may not. It may turn out the Russians just overwhelm them in the end….But they haven't so far.”
“In the last weeks, we've been watching the so-called Russian offensive,” Fried said. “The Russian offensive may result in the occupation of Bakhmut. But it has not yet. The so-called overwhelming Russian advantage does not seem to be worth much on the battlefield.”
Much depends, he said, if the Ukrainians can push them back. “They have in the past. They did last fall. But I am not saying the Ukrainians will inevitably win.”
As for China’s peacemaking ambitions, Fried said the Chinese have leverage, but would not push Putin to the negotiating table on their own.
“The Chinese are not going to deliver the Russians to the negotiating table,” Fried said. “What is going to deliver them to the negotiating table is the situation on the ground.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister said Friday that the war will eventually end at the negotiating table, but only after a more decisive outcome on the ground.
“My goal as foreign minister is to make sure that Ukraine reaches the table after a defining success on the battlefield,” Kuleba told the BBC. “We need to win. And we will win. The question is only the timeline and the price that we will pay for that.”
Turkey could ratify Finland accession to NATO soon
Meantime, US, Turkish and European sources suggested this week that Turkey could ratify Finland’s accession into NATO in the next few weeks. A source suggested that Turkey might be able to ratify Sweden’s accession into NATO following when a change to Sweden’s constitution is due to go into effect on June 1, and ahead of the NATO summit to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania in July (July 11-12).
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in a March 14 meeting with Turkish President Erdogan’s senior advisor Ibrahim Kalin, “underscored the United States’ view that Sweden and Finland should become members of NATO as soon as possible,” the NSC said in a read-out of the meeting.
One notes that “as soon as possible” is not the same as “at the same time,” as was the previous expressed preference of the US administration.
While Washington, as well as Sweden and Finland, had initially sought to have both countries join NATO together, “there’s also a desire to keep this moving,” said Kristine Berzina, with the German Marshall Fund.
If both countries are admitted by the time of the NATO summit, “they can have the party in Vilnius in July,” she said.
“I believe there is no reason it [NATO accession] can’t be secured by the summit this summer for both Finland and for Sweden,” Sullivan told reporters ahead of meeting Kalin Tuesday.
Updated 3/17 with China’s Foreign Ministry announcement on Friday that Xi will travel to Russia at Putin’s invitation for a state visit March 20-22.
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