Chinese defence minister to visit Moscow next week


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China’s defence minister will visit Moscow next week for meetings with his Russian counterpart and other military officials, Beijing said on Friday, a day after Russia claimed its forces had encircled Ukrainian troops in the battleground city of Bakhmut – a claim disputed by Kyiv. Follow our live blog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

11:15am: China defence minister to visit Moscow next week

Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Li Shangfu will visit Russia next week for meetings with counterpart Sergei Shoigu and other military officials, China’s Defence Ministry has said.

Li’s visit underscores China’s strengthening engagement with Russia, with which it has largely aligned its foreign policy in an attempt to reshape the world order to diminish the influence of the United States and other Western democracies. 

China has refused to criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and blamed the US and NATO for provoking Moscow. During a 2022 visit to Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping issued a joint statement declaring a “no limits” relationship between the two countries. 

Li will also visit Russia’s military academy during his April 16-19 trip, Defence Ministry spokesperson Col. Tan Kefei said.

The trip follows an official visit to Moscow last month by Xi that emphasised how China is increasingly becoming the senior partner in the relationship as it provides Russia with political cover and an economic lifeline during its war on Ukraine. 

10:50am: Russia puts Pacific Fleet on high alert in surprise inspection

Russia has put its Pacific naval fleet on high alert as part of a surprise inspection aimed at building its defensive capabilities, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said.

“The main objective of this inspection is to increase the ability of the Armed Forces to repel the aggression of a probable enemy from the direction of ocean and sea,” Shoigu said on state television.

The drill will also simulate an enemy landing on Russia’s Sakhalin island and on its southern Kuril Islands, some of which are claimed by Japan in a territorial dispute dating back to the end of World War Two.

Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said Russia’s naval forces would be deployed to training areas and would carry out combat exercises as part of the drill.

10:25am: Russian oil exports jump despite sanctions

Russian oil exports jumped to their highest level in almost three years in March despite Western sanctions, but revenues were down sharply from last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

The West has imposed a slew of sanctions against Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022, including price caps on its crude and oil products and EU embargoes.

Russia retaliated by slashing its production by 500,000 barrels per day, and its partners at the OPEC+ oil cartel shocked the markets by announcing their own output cuts earlier this month.

The IEA said total oil shipments from Russia rose by 600,000 bpd to 8.1 million bpd last month. While Russia’s oil revenues rebounded by $1 billion to $12.7 billion, they were still down 43 percent compared to a year ago.

9:45am: Ukraine bans its national teams from competing with athletes from Russia, Belarus

Ukraine has banned its national sports teams from competing in Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic events that include competitors from Russia and Belarus, the sports ministry has said in a decree.

The decision, criticised by some Ukrainian athletes, comes after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) angered Kyiv by paving the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine had previously warned its sports federations that it would strip them of their status as governing bodies if their athletes competed on the international stage with Russians and Belarusians.

Some Ukrainian athletes, including Olympian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych, have criticised the ban, saying it will lead to the destruction of Ukrainian sports.

“If Ukrainian representatives are not present at competitions, then we completely vacate the international sports grounds and give the Russian/Belarusian representatives the opportunity to promote their narratives and propaganda,” he wrote on Twitter.

4:09am: Russia claims Bakhmut has been surrounded

Russia said Thursday it had cut off Ukrainian forces inside Bakhmut, while Kyiv insisted supply lines were still open into the town, scene of the most brutal battle of the war.

AFP was unable to verify the status on the ground in the eastern town, which has turned into the longest and bloodiest fight since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

The Russian army said its airborne troops were “blocking the transfer of Ukrainian army reserves to the city and the possibility of retreat for enemy units”. It also said that Wagner mercenary units were advancing in Bakhmut.

But the Ukrainian army told AFP it had communication with its troops inside Bakhmut and was able to send them munitions. “This does not correspond to reality,” Sergiy Cherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces said, referring to Russia’s claims. “We are able to … deliver food products, ammunition, medicines, all that is necessary, and also to recover our wounded.” The Ukrainian general staff nevertheless acknowledged a “difficult” situation in Bakhmut.

  • Key developments from Thursday, April 14:

The European Union added Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to its sanctions list for “actively participating in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” as US authorities made an arrest in connection with the leak of confidential documents.

A Ukrainian army spokesman rejected Moscow’s claims of “blocking” Kyiv’s forces from getting in or out of the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut, while Russian paramilitary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin also said it was premature to claim Russia had encircled Ukrainian forces in the war-torn city.

>> Read our live blog for all of yesterday’s developments as they unfolded

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

 (FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and Reuters)