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Ukraine briefing: Blinken warns China against lethal support for Russia as battle over Bakhmut intensifies


Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the United States would impose sanctions on Chinese companies or individuals if they provide lethal support to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine or “violate our sanctions.”

The top U.S. diplomat, who has been vague about what consequences China might face if it provides weapons to Russia, said Washington would “not hesitate” to act if Beijing moves beyond the nonlethal support he said Chinese state-owned companies are providing Russia and begins supplying lethal equipment.

Blinken made the remarks to reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan — which has a close relationship with Russia — where he met with foreign ministers of the “C5+1 group,” made up of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. When asked about China’s proposed peace plan for the conflict, Blinken said Beijing “can’t have it both ways.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies — has arrived in China for a three-day trip.He is due to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping as part of the state visit, which comes as Washington and Beijing exchange tense messages over China’s position on the war. State Department spokesman Ned Price accused China of being anything “but an honest broker” in the conflict.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • The battle for the besieged city of Bakhmut has intensified, with a top Ukrainian military commander saying Tuesday that Russian forces have deployed specialized Wagner Group mercenary units to break through the eastern city’s defenses. In comments shared by Ukrainian outlets, Col. Gen Oleksandr Syrsky described the situation in the city — a top symbolic target for Moscow that experts say is of limited strategic value — as “extremely tense.” Zelensky in his nightly address said
  • The Pentagon’s senior policy official told Congress that Ukraine doesn’t see F-16s as a top priority now. The fighter aircraft are “not in the top three” of Ukraine’s requests, which are air defense, artillery and armor, Defense Undersecretary Colin Kahl said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Delivery timeline, even for older models, is a minimum of 18 months, Kahl said, and training would take the same amount of time. “Does it make sense to spend $2-$3 billion for something that would arrive a year and a half from now?… That’s the trade-offs we’re making at the moment.”
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg restated his support for admitting Ukraine to the Western military alliance in the “long term,” speaking at a joint news conference with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Tuesday. “NATO allies have agreed Ukraine will become a member of our alliance,” Stoltenberg said, while also emphasizing that in the immediate term he is more focused on helping Ukraine defend its sovereign territory. Russia vehemently opposes Ukraine joining NATO, viewing it as a threat to its own borders.
  • International Criminal Court top prosecutor Karim Khan is on a return trip to Kyiv to investigate Russian attacks on energy and civilian infrastructure. Meeting with Zelensky on Tuesday, Khan said the president’s leadership has helped spotlight the importance of the ICC and the rule of law. “Without the rule of law, we will have a society dominated by those with the biggest amount of weapons,” Khan told him. Zelensky also emphasized the importance of opening a Ukrainian office of the ICC, which he said in his nightly address is “approaching.”

Battleground updates

  • One person died after Russian forces shelled the Ukrainian port city of Kherson, the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Tuesday on Telegram. Yermak said the attack destroyed a residential building, without providing details. Zelensky added in his nightly address that 30 strikes hit Kherson on Tuesday.
  • Russian forces continued to focus their offensive efforts along Ukraine’s eastern front, where the Ukrainian military claims to have repelled more than 60 attacks in the past day. In a Facebook update Tuesday, Ukrainian forces reported attacks on more than a dozen settlements on the front line around Bakhmut, where Russian forces have been inching forward in recent weeks.
  • A wave of drone attacks across Ukraine is further evidence that Kyiv needs modern combat aircraft, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address. Ukrainian forces shot down 11 of the 14 attack drones, he said, “but we will be able to fully protect the sky when the aviation taboo in relations with our partners is lifted.”
  • Moscow and Minsk have yet to respond to claims by Belarusian anti-government activists that they have blown up a Russian military surveillance aircraft at an airfield near the Belarusian capital. In a Tuesday update, British defense officials said the aircraft was “critical to Russian air operations for providing an air battlespace picture,” making its loss — if confirmed — “significant.”
  • Lithuania’s defense minister on Tuesday appeared at a U.K. training site for Ukrainian soldiers, tweeting that the mission was “going on very intensively.” Several countries in recent months have sent instructors to support the training, including Lithuania, Norway and Canada.

Global impact

  • Russia will not resume its participation in the New START nuclear arms pact until Washington is ready to listen to Moscow’s concerns, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview published Tuesday by Russia’s Izvestia newspaper. Putin announced last week that Russia would suspend its role in the only remaining nuclear arms-control treaty between the United States and Russia, a move criticized by President Biden and multiple U.S. officials.
  • The war in Ukraine is likely to loom over discussions at the meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers, to be held Wednesday and Thursday in India. Last weekend, finance chiefs from the world’s most powerful economies ended a meeting without issuing their usual communique after failing to achieve consensus on sections that condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. China and Russia declined to sign the document. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — who walked out on discussions at a G-20 meeting in Bali last year that denounced the invasion — will attend the latest gathering, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
  • Russian officials temporarily closed large swaths of airspace above St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning as part of a military training drill, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Fighter planes “made sorties to practice interception and identify the conditional target of the intruder,” according to the ministry. Earlier in the day, airspace within a 124-mile radius of the city’s Pulkovo international airport was closed, state-owned Tass news reported.
  • Putin gave U.S. actor Steven Seagal a state decoration for his work as a special representative of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, according to the Associated Press. Seagal publicly backed Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and in 2017 was banned from entering Ukraine for five years.
  • The Finnish Border Guard on Tuesday began constructing a pilot border fence less than two miles long on the country’s eastern Imatra crossing point into Russia. Finland shares a roughly 800-mile border with Russia and has said it plans to build a barrier fence of about 43 miles.

From our correspondents

China, saying it can mediate on Ukraine, hosts Putin ally Lukashenko: In Beijing, Xi and Lukashenko are expected to sign agreements deepening cooperation between their countries, just days after China positioned itself as a potential mediator in the Ukraine war by releasing a 12-point proposal for peace, Meaghan Tobin reports.

The three-day meeting kicks off amid warnings in Washington that China is contemplating direct military aid to Russia, which Beijing vehemently denied Monday, accusing the United States of “blatant bullying and double standards.”

Natalia Abbakumova, Mary Ilyushina and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.