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Live blog: ‘Russians will support you in 2024 election,’ Xi tells Putin

Monday, March 20, 2023 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told President Vladimir Putin that he was convinced Russians would support him in a presidential election due in 2024, even though the Kremlin chief has not yet said if he will seek another term. 

Putin, who came to power on the last day of 1999 when Boris Yeltsin resigned, is the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin. 

“Under your strong leadership, Russia has made great strides in its prosperous development. I am confident that the Russian people will continue to give you their firm support,” Xi told Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov swiftly pointed out that Xi had not specifically said Putin would participate in next year’s election but added that the Kremlin shared Xi’s confidence in Russians’ support for Putin.

Xi and Putin were due to hold one-to-one talks on Monday and then dine. 

Xi was the first leader to meet the Russian president since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia during its year-old offensive in Ukraine.

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1719 GMT — EU agrees plan to send a million artillery shells to Ukraine 

European Union countries have agreed a two billion euro plan to send one million artillery rounds to Ukraine over the next year by digging into their own stockpiles and teaming up to buy more shells.  

“We have reached a political consensus to send to Ukraine one million rounds of 155 mm calibre ammunition,” Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels.  

“There are many, many details still to (be) solved but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way,” said Pevkur, whose country had championed the move.

1646 GMT — US authorises another $350 million in military aid to Ukraine 

The United States is authorising another $350 million in military aid for Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, as Kiev builds up its arsenal for an anticipated counter-offensive against Russian forces. 

“This military assistance package includes more ammunition for US-provided HIMARS and howitzers that Ukraine is using to defend itself, as well as ammunition for Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons, riverine boats and other equipment,” Blinken said in a statement. 

The United States has so far provided more than $30 billion in weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia. 

1553 GMT — ‘World should not be fooled’ by Xi ‘peace’ proposals: Blinken 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has voiced scepticism over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “peace” proposals in Moscow, warning they could be a “stalling tactic” to help Russia on the ground in Ukraine.  

“The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms,” Blinken told reporters.

1528 GMT — Wagner chief says his forces control ‘around 70’ percent of Bakhmut 

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has said that his forces control more than half of the embattled eastern Ukraine town of Bakhmut, the stage for the longest battle of Russia’s offensive. 

“At the moment, Wagner units control around 70 percent of the city of Bakhmut and are continuing operations to complete the liberation of the city,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an open letter to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. 

1438 GMT — No negotiations possible with Russia after ICC arrest warrant: Ukraine 

A Ukrainian presidential aide has said that there can be no negotiations with Moscow following the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that Putin’s “legal fixation” as “an obvious international criminal” means that the re can be no negotiations with the current Russian leader. 

He also said that Russia cannot return to world politics in its “pre-war status” and that sanctions implemented against Moscow cannot be lifted as long as the “face of Putin” represents the country. 

1420 GMT — Polish ambassador does not rule out direct intervention in Ukraine war 

According to Polish Ambassador to France Jan Emeryk Rosciszewski, a situation may arise in which Poland would have to directly enter the Russia-Ukraine war. 

“It is not NATO, Poland or Slovakia that are exerting more and more pressure, but Russia, which has invaded Ukraine. Russia that is usurping its territories. Russia that is killing its people. And Russia that kidnaps Ukrainian children,” the 57-year-old ambassador told French broadcaster LCI on Sunday evening. 

“So either Ukraine defends its independence today, or we have to enter this conflict. Because our main values, which were the basis of our civilisation and our culture, will be threatened. Therefore, we will have no choice but to enter the conflict,” he added. 

1401 GMT — Over 10.5M people crossed into country since beginning of war: Poland 

More than 10.5 million crossed into Poland since the beginning of the Russian assault on Ukraine last February, Polish authorities have said. 

With the crossings of over 22,500 people from Ukraine to Poland on Sunday, the number of crossings from Ukraine to Poland since February 24, 2022 exceeded 10.5 million, Polish Border Guard wrote on Twitter. 

During the same period, on the other hand, over 8.6 million people crossed from Poland for Ukraine, it added.

1355 — Putin welcomes China’s role in Ukraine conflict

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed China’s willingness to play a “constructive role” in ending the conflict in Ukraine, saying Sino-Russian relations were “at the highest point” in history.

His Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping arrived to Russia hoping to deliver a breakthrough on Ukraine as Beijing seeks to position itself as a peacemaker.

The quality of ties between Moscow and Beijing is “higher than the political and military unions of the Cold War era”, Putin said in an article written for a Chinese newspaper and published by the Kremlin on the eve of Xi’s visit.

1045 GMT — Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones

The Kremlin told officials involved in preparations for Russia’s 2024 presidential election to stop using Apple iPhones because of concerns that the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

At a Kremlin-organised seminar for officials involved in domestic politics, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy head of the presidential administration, told officials to change their phones by April 1, Kommersant said, citing unidentified sources.

When asked about the issue on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not confirm the report.

1030 GMT — Kremlin welcomes China peace plan

Xi has arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit that offers a strong political boost for Putin as fighting in Ukraine grinds on.

China and Russia have described Xi’s trip as part of efforts to further deepen their “no-limits friendship”.

The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan for Ukraine and said it would be discussed talks between Putin and Xi that will begin over dinner on Monday.

0730 GMT — China says US, not China supplying weapons to Ukraine

China’s foreign ministry has said it was the US, not the Chinese, who were supplying weapons to the Ukraine battlefield.

Spokesperson Wang Wenbin made the remarks at a news briefing in response to a question regarding US sources saying that Chinese ammunition have been used in Ukraine and fired by Russia.

0515 GMT — EU’s ammunition plan for Ukraine

European Union ministers will look to sign off on a 2-billion-euro plan to raid their stockpiles and jointly purchase artillery shells for Ukraine.

Ukraine has told the EU it wants 350,000 shells a month to allow them to launch fresh counter-offensives later in the year.

The first part of the plan involves committing a further one billion euros ($1.06 billion) of shared funding to try to get EU states to tap their already stretched stocks for ammunition that can be sent quickly.

The second part would see the bloc use another one billion euros to order 155-millimetre shells for Ukraine as part of a massive joint procurement push intended to spur firms to ramp up production.

0001 GMT — UK, Ukraine sign digital trade deal 

Britain has signed a digital trade deal with Ukraine granting the war-torn country access to financial services “crucial” for its reconstruction efforts.

The deal facilitates cross-border data flows between the two countries, allowing Ukrainian businesses to trade more efficiently and cheaply with the UK through electronic transactions, e-signatures and e-contracts, the department of business and trade said.

“The historic digital trade deal signed today paves the way for a new era of modern trade between our two countries,” Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said in a statement. 

The deal comes as Ukrainian ministers and 200 UK and international businesses and officials meet in London to discuss future Ukraine reconstruction projects. 

2300 GMT — Britain ready to fill Warsaw’s air defence gaps

Britain is ready to help Poland fill its air defence gaps caused by Warsaw sending some of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine but Poland has not yet made such requests, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has said.

Poland last week said it would send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming days, making it the first of Kiev’s allies to provide such aircraft and possibly creating a need to ramp up Poland’s air defence equipment.

Britain would be able to help fill such gaps, as it previously did when Poland sent T-72 main battle tanks to Ukraine, providing Warsaw with Challenger 2 tanks, Heappey told German newspaper Welt. “We will look very positively at a Polish request to fill in the gaps that have arisen,” Heappey said. 

2219 GMT — China’s proposal on Ukraine reflects maximum unity of global views: Xi 

Xi has said that Beijing’s proposal on how to reach a settlement in Ukraine reflects global views and serves to neutralise the consequences of the crisis, but acknowledged the solutions may not be easy.

“Complex problems do not have simple solutions,” Xi wrote in an article in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a daily published by the Russian government.

For our live updates from Sunday (March 19), click here.

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