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China urges Ukraine talks as Bakhmut battle continues

Chinese officials are urging Ukraine and Russia to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire while fighting continues in Bakhmut.

March 17, 2023
17 March 2023

China wants Russia and Ukraine to hold peace talks and is concerned about an escalation of the war, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang has told his Ukrainian counterpart over a phone call as the battle for Bakhmut continued.

China, which has refrained from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, has urged both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire in its 12-point paper on the “political resolution of the Ukraine crisis”.

The plan, which received a lukewarm welcome on both sides, called for the protection of civilians and respect for each other’s sovereignty.

“China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” Qin told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Russian Vladimir Putin as soon as next week and hold a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Analysts say it will be hard for China to get Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table but some pointed out that Xi could act as a “back channel” for starting momentum towards talks.

Meanwhile, on the battlefield in Ukraine’s east, Ukrainian forces continued to withstand Russian assaults on the now-ruined city of Bakhmut. 

Reuters reporters about 1.5km from the frontline heard a constant rumble of artillery on all sides.

Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured Bakhmut’s eastern part but have so far failed to encircle the city.

“Sometimes we see groups of seven people (Russian soldiers). We strike, three fall and the rest continue to advance,” said Marian, 21, a member of Ukraine’s 80th Air Assault Brigade, at a mortar position, describing his experiences along the front.

The brigade fired seven mortars from that position while small arms fire could also be heard in the distance.

Russia says taking Bakhmut would be a major success, opening a path to capture the rest of the surrounding Donetsk region, one of its central war aims.

Ukraine says it has decided not to pull out because it is inflicting huge losses on the Russian assault force which will make it easier to stage a counterattack later this year. 

“They (Russian forces) need this victory like air and therefore do not count the losses,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Ukrainian television.

The Pentagon on Thursday released a de-classified video showing a Russian military jet intercept a US drone downed over the Black Sea two days ago.

The United States has said Tuesday’s incident showed Russia was behaving irresponsibly in international airspace, while Russia accused the US of trying to escalate tensions near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it forcibly annexed in 2014.

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