(Kyiv) A Chinese envoy sent by Beijing to discuss a “political settlement” of the conflict is in Kyiv on Wednesday, a visit expected by Volodymyr Zelensky, armed with new promises of Western weapons, to see China use its influence on Russia.
“A meeting is possible in the afternoon” between the Ukrainian president and Li Hui, a senior Ukrainian official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This exchange would be a first between Mr. Zelensky – who encourages Beijing to weigh on Vladimir Putin – and a senior Chinese official, since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.
According to Beijing, Li Hui, special representative for Eurasian affairs and former Chinese ambassador to Moscow, is supposed to discuss the “political settlement” of the Ukrainian conflict during a European tour which will also take him through Poland, France, Germany and Russia.
China, a close partner of Moscow, has never publicly condemned the Russian invasion.
Beijing proposed a 12-point plan in February to end the war, viewed with skepticism by Westerners, and its President Xi Jinping visited Moscow in March, giving token support to Vladimir Putin in the face of Westerners.
“At the end of the month, [Mr. Hui] will come to us,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Roudenko said on Tuesday evening, quoted by the TASS news agency, without giving a specific date at this stage.
“The idea is to make these countries aware of the Chinese proposals for a settlement policy in Ukraine and to hear the views and comments of the interlocutors concerned,” he said.
This visit to Kyiv by Li Hui comes just after Volodymyr Zelensky’s European tour during which he received the promise of new arms deliveries necessary to launch a major counter-offensive.
He was heard on several points – anti-aircraft missiles, attack drones, armored vehicles – and progressed towards the delivery of Western fighter jets, a request from Kyiv for almost 15 months.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced in turn that France would soon begin training Ukrainian pilots and the United Kingdom and the Netherlands said together Tuesday evening that they wanted to build an “international coalition” to supply American F-fighters. 16 to the Ukrainian army.
Sending Western aircraft to Kyiv, in addition to the Soviet MiGs already supplied by Poland and Slovakia, would be an undeniable added value for Ukraine.
Asked about the new Western deliveries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday “to see that the flow of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine is increasing and the level of tactical and technical weapons supplied is also increasing” .
On the battlefield, Ukraine on Tuesday quantified for the first time its gains of the last few days around the city of Bakhmout (east), on the flanks of which it is advancing at the very moment when Russian forces are about to attack. take full control after months of bloody battle.
“In recent days, our troops have liberated about 20 square kilometers north and south” of Bakhmout, said Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar.
But this local offensive does not seem to be the big attack that Kyiv has been promising for months, Volodymyr Zelensky still recently saying that his army “needs more time”.
For its part, Russia has claimed to be progressing a little more within Bakhmout itself, a now devastated city that it hopes to conquer after a series of humiliating setbacks.
According to the leader of Wagner’s paramilitary group, Evguéni Prigojine, who announced on Tuesday the death at the front of an American fighting alongside the Ukrainians, a last 1.46 km2 reduction in the city is resisting his men, in the front line since months.
Such a capture would however have little strategic importance on the course of the war, according to observers, a fortiori if the city is opened up by Ukrainian forces.
The agreement on the export via the Black Sea of Ukrainian cereals, crucial for the world food supply, was extended on Wednesday for two months.
“It was decided to extend the Black Sea grain deal for another two months,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of the July 2022 Ukraine-Russia deal that was about to expire. Thursday evening.
“We are grateful to our partners, the UN and Turkey, for their efforts to strengthen global food security,” the Deputy Prime Minister for Restoration of Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, reacted on Twitter. follows the file.
The Kremlin for its part confirmed the extension, but denounces an “unbalanced” implementation.
Signed last July in Istanbul between the United Nations, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, the agreement has allowed the export of more than 30 million tonnes of Ukrainian cereals in the last ten months, helping to alleviate the world food crisis. caused by the war.
It had previously been renewed on March 19 for 60 days.
In theory, the renewals are supposed to be valid for 120 days, but Russia then insisted on a 60-day extension, demanding respect for the other part of the agreement, which concerns its own exports of agricultural products, still hampered by the sanctions imposed by Western countries after the outbreak of the Russian offensive against Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia had listed five demands to extend the deal, including reconnecting Russia’s agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank to the Swift international banking system and removing shackles to insure ships and access foreign ports.
“Our main assessments of the agreements […] have not changed”, reacted Wednesday the spokeswoman of the Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova, while Moscow affirms that the exports of fertilizers and Russian food products remain hampered. “Imbalances in their implementation must be corrected as soon as possible,” she added.
For his part, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the two-month extension of the corridor to the press, “good news for the world”, according to him, while saying he hoped for a broader agreement in the long term and answers to questions that he says remain “unresolved”.