China’s president Xi Jinping expressed willingness to speak to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the head of the European Commission said, after French president Macron urged Beijing to talk sense to Russia over the war in Ukraine. Xi, who has sought to position China as a potential mediator in the conflict but is seen by the West as favouring Russia, responded by saying he hoped Moscow and Kyiv could hold peace negotiations as soon as possible.
However, an adviser to Russian president Putin rated the chances of peace talks starting this year at “zero” and a top Ukrainian official ruled out talks with Moscow about territory until it withdraws all troops, pushing back on a colleague who had touted the idea of negotiations to resolve the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula.
Earlier, an advisor to Zelenskiy had suggested Ukraine may be willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula. Andriy Sybiha, the deputy head of the president’s office, expressed Kyiv’s interest in negotiations should Ukrainian forces reach the region’s administrative border as a result of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive many expect will begin in the coming months.
But Mykhailo Podolyak, another senior adviser to Zelenskiy, ruled out peace talks until Russian forces have left all of Ukraine, including the Russian-occupied Crimea. Posting to Twitter on Thursday, Podolyak said there was “no question of any territorial concessions or bargaining of our sovereign rights”. Crimea has been under Russian occupation since February 2014 and was illegally annexed by Moscow the following month after a sham referendum.
Putin held talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in Moscow to discuss expanding economic cooperation and bolstering defence ties between the two countries. The talks held at the Kremlin on Thursday involved senior Russian and Belarusian officials and followed the leaders’ one-on-one meeting on Wednesday. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the pair did not discuss the placement of tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory.
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. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would keep an eye on any Nato military deployments to Finland and respond accordingly.
The head of Russia’s private Wagner militia group has said there are no signs of Ukrainian forces leaving Bakhmut, and that fighting continues to rage on in the western part of Ukraine’s eastern city. In a Telegram post, 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.
Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has arrived in Greece for a visit where he was promised more artillery and small arms ammunition shipments, access to Greek hospitals for wounded military personnel and additional Soviet-era BMP infantry fighting vehicles. The Greek defence minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, said Athens “will provide every support to Ukraine at this very important, crucial stage of the war” during a joint news conference with Reznikov.
A top Ukrainian air commander has said Kyiv is in dire need of F-16 fighter jets, which he said were “four or five times” more effective than the Soviet-era planes currently used by his forces. Poland and Slovakia have recently begun to hand over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, but Serhiy Holubtsov, one of the most senior commanders in Ukraine’s air force, said the Soviet-era warplanes would not be able to fully counteract Russia’s vast air force.
Residents of Ukraine’s southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia have been asked to avoid mass gatherings on Easter this Sunday. Zaporizhzhia regional head, Yuriy Malashko, was cited 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.
A Russian girl sent to an orphanage after drawing an anti-war sketch at school has been taken from the facility by her mother, the Kremlin children’s rights commissioner has said. In a case that drew international outrage, the father of 13-year-old Maria Moskalyova was convicted of discrediting the Russian military and handed a two-year prison term, and his daughter was sent to the orphanage.
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. 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.
Russia’s refusal to give consular access to detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is “inexcusable,” the White House said
Sweden’s prosecution authority has said 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. Prosecutor Mats 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”.