President Emmanuel Macron met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday, and told Xi “I know I can count on you to bring back Russia to reason”. The French president, who arrived on Wednesday for a three-day state visit, shook hands with Xi outside the Great Hall of the People, the heart of power in China’s capital. Macron said he and Xi had agreed that nuclear weapons should be excluded from the conflict. Macron has said during his trip that Beijing can play a “major role” in finding a path to peace in the conflict and welcomed China’s “willingness to commit to a resolution”.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, also in Beijing, warned China that any arms shipments to Russia would “significantly harm” relations. She said on Thursday that she had encouraged Xi to reach out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. She also said that she discussed imbalances in trade between the EU and China, raised the EU’s deep concern about nuclear threats being located in Belarus, and said that China’s position on the UN security council gave it a responsibility to use its influence in a friendship with Russia built on decades.
Ukraine has made what the Financial Times calls its “most explicit statement of Ukraine’s interest in negotiations” since cutting off peace talks last year in April, saying that it is willing to discuss the future of Crimea. In an interview with the Financial Times, Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelenskiy’s office, said: “If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open a diplomatic page to discuss this issue. It doesn’t mean that we exclude the liberation of Crimea by our army.”
The head of Russia’s private Wagner militia group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said there are no signs of Ukrainian forces leaving the eastern city of Bakhmut, the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s war. In a Telegram post on Thursday, Prigozhin, who has been critical of Russia’s military top brass, made clear he was not satisfied with the support he was receiving from the country’s mainstream forces. Ukrainian troops face a difficult situation in Bakhmut, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday, but that Kyiv will take the “corresponding” decisions to protect them if they risk being encircled by Russian forces.
The Kremlin has said Russia is taking steps to “ensure our safety” and defended its decision to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Finland formally became Nato’s 31st member on Tuesday, doubling the length of the transatlantic defensive alliance’s land border with Russia. Sweden is also set to join the alliance. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday: “It is Nato that is expanding towards Russia, not Russia that is taking its military infrastructure towards the borders of Nato.” He added that Russia would keep an eye on any Nato military deployments to Finland and respond accordingly.
Residents of Ukraine’s southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia have been asked to avoid mass gatherings on Easter this Sunday, according to a report. Zaporizhzhia regional head, Yuriy Malashko, was cited by RBC Ukraine as urging residents in the region, which remains partially occupied by Russian forces, to pay attention to air raid sirens and to remain cautious during the Easter holidays.
It remains unclear who was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany which spewed gas into the Baltic last year, Sweden’s prosecution authority, which is investigating the incident, said on Thursday. “We are working unconditionally and turning over every stone and leaving nothing to chance,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in a statement. Ljungqvist told Reuters that “the clear main scenario” was that a state sponsored group was behind the sabotage, but that an independent group was still “theoretically possible”. He also said that the type of explosive used in the bombings ruled out “a large portion of actors.”
The Russian girl sent to an orphanage after drawing an anti-war sketch at school has been taken from the facility by her mother. Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova said “Masha did not want to go to her mother at first, and her opinion is legally required to be taken into account. Now her position has changed – she told me this herself on the phone. Olga has already taken Masha from the social rehabilitation centre. Let’s hope that everything will work out for mum and daughter”. Lvova-Belova published a picture on her official Telegram which she claimed showed the reunited child and mother. The Hague-based international criminal court (ICC) last month issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lvova-Belova, accusing them of illegally deporting children from Ukraine and the unlawful transfer of people to Russia from Ukraine.
A Moscow court will consider an appeal by lawyers for Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent arrested on espionage charges in Russia, to lift his pre-trial detention, according to a report. The hearing on 18 April will be held behind closed doors since Russia considers information related to the charges as classified, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the court’s press service.
The governor of Russia’s Bryansk region has claimed that Russian armed forces have prevented an attempt to break into the territory of the region by a group of 20 saboteurs from Ukraine.
Ukraine’s state arms producer said on Thursday it would launch joint production of 125mm rounds for Soviet-era tanks with arms producer Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ) in Poland. Ukroboronprom said Poland would become the second Nato member state to help Ukraine produce ammunition.
Bilateral relations between Sweden and Hungary are at a low point, prime minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás told a media briefing on Thursday, calling on Stockholm to take steps to boost confidence. Hungary is one of two countries holding up Sweden’s accession to Nato.
Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, were welcomed to Poland with military honours, tributes and praise on Tuesday. They were greeted in Warsaw by President Andrzej Duda, who awarded Zelenskiy Poland’s oldest and highest civilian distinction, The Order of the White Eagle.