Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met for their first face-to-face talks since the start of the conflict in Ukraine on Thursday, hailing their strategic ties in defiance of the West. Sitting across from each other at two long rounded tables and flanked by aides, the two leaders met on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan. The meeting was part of Mr Xi’s first trip abroad since the early days of the pandemic, and for Mr Putin, a chance to show Russia has not been fully isolated despite Western efforts. “China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil,” Mr Xi told Mr Putin at the talks. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV also quoted Mr Xi as saying China was willing to work with Russia to support “each other’s core interests”. Mr Putin took a clear broadside at the United States, which has been leading efforts to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia. “Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly form and are completely unacceptable,” Mr Putin said. “We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Mr Putin told Mr Xi, while reiterating Moscow’s backing for China on Taiwan. “We adhere to the principle of one China. We condemn the provocation of the US and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr Putin said, after a US Senate committee on Wednesday took the first step toward Washington directly providing billions of dollars in military aid to Taiwan.’Alternative’ to WestIt was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Putin saw Xi in early February for the Winter Olympic Games, days before the Russian leader launched the military offensive in Ukraine.”We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”President Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks, nor was it mentioned in a Chinese readout of their meeting, which took place in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of a regional summit.Beijing’s support is widely seen as essential for Moscow, which needs markets for its energy exports and sources to import high tech goods as it faces sanctions imposed by the West.The last time the two men met they signed a “no limits” friendship agreement between their two countries. Three weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine.The Russian president’s comments suggested a Chinese shift towards a more critical stance, in private at least. Ian Bremmer, political science professor at Columbia University, said they were the “first public sign of Putin recognising pressure to back down”.”Russia has become a pariah to the G7 because of their invasion. China wants no part of that,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations.White House spokesman John Kirby said China should reject Russia’s invasion: “The whole world should be lined up against what Mr Putin is doing,” Mr Kirby told CNN. “This is not the time for any kind of business as usual with Mr Putin.”Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later told reporters that the talks behind closed doors with China had been excellent.’By your side’In Kyiv, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, held talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy where she told him Ukraine’s accession process to the European Union was well on track.”It’s impressive to see the speed, the determination, the preciseness with which you are progressing,” she said.Ukraine became a candidate to join the EU in June, in a bold geopolitical step which both Kyiv and Brussels hailed as an “historic moment”.Ms Von der Leyen said the European Union would never be able to match the sacrifices Ukrainians are making or compensate them for their fight for democracy and humanity, but pledged, “you have your European friends by your side as long as it takes.”The EU’s sanctions on Russia are having a deep and visible impact, she said, and although giving support is costly, “freedom is priceless” she added.After a week of the fastest Ukrainian gains since the war’s early weeks, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were now fortifying defences and it would be hard for Kyiv’s troops to maintain the pace of their advance.President Putin has yet to publicly comment on the setback suffered by his forces after Ukrainian troops made a rapid armoured thrust through the front line last week. Russian troops have abandoned dozens of tanks and other armoured vehicles in haste.An abandoned Russian military tank is being inspected after Russian Forces withdrew from Balakliia as Russia-Ukraine war continues on 15 September, 2022 in Balakliia, Kharkiv Oblast, Russia. Source: Getty / (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)Kyiv says it recaptured more than 8,000 sq km nearly equivalent to the size of the island of Cyprus. The speed of the advance has lifted Ukrainian morale, pleased Western backers who have provided arms, intelligence and training, and raised hopes of further significant gains before the winter sets in.Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, said it would still be a tough fight to wrest control of his region back from Russia, which recognises it as an independent state controlled by separatists.There was no let-up either in Russia’s daily missile strikes on Ukraine, a day after it fired cruise missiles at a reservoir dam near Kryvyi Rih, President Zelenskyy’s hometown.Ukrainian soldiers patrol at the streets of Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal as Russia-Ukraine war continues in, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on 14 September, 2022. Source: Getty / (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)Authorities in the city of Kharkiv said Russian shells had hit a high-pressure gas pipeline, while a rescue operation was underway in the city of Bakhmut with four people suspected to be trapped under rubble after a strike, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk regional governor, said.Russian forces had launched attacks on several settlements on the Kharkiv frontline in the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Thursday.But Britain’s defence ministry said in an update that Ukraine’s forces were continuing to consolidate their control of newly liberated land in the region.The United States on Thursday imposed new sanctions on 22 individuals and two entities that had facilitated Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Treasury Department said.Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had earlier warned Washington to tread carefully, saying any decision to supply Kyiv with longer-range missiles for US-made HIMARS systems would cross a “red line” and make the United States “a direct party to the conflict”.The UN nuclear agency’s board of governors on Thursday asked Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Source: Getty / (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)’Withdraw from Zaporizhzhia’The UN nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday passed a resolution demanding that Russia end its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, diplomats at the closed-door meeting said. The withdrawal of Russian troops from the power plant it has occupied since March has been a longstanding demand from Kyiv, who fears of a nuclear disaster if shelling continues around the plant.The text, submitted by Canada and Poland, was approved by 26 of the 35 member states sitting on the Council of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). China and Russia voted against it, while seven countries — Burundi, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam — abstained. Ukraine energy minister German Galushchenko welcomed the decision in a Facebook post on Thursday. Addressing the countries who abstained on the vote, he called on them to reconsider and to “stop Russia now” before someone else followed its example. Richard Sadleir, Australia’s ambassador to Vienna, tweeted: “The (IAEA) Board of Governors has sent another strong message to Russia: cease immediately all actions threatening nuclear safety and security, and return the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and all other Ukrainian territory to control.” Another diplomat confirmed the move. The resolution supports the efforts of the IAEA which has been in talks with Russia and Ukraine over setting up a security zone around the nuclear plant. Already in March, the IAEA passed a resolution warning about the “unprecedented danger of a nuclear accident” that would endanger not just the population of Ukraine but Europe as a whole. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe has been a focal point of fighting in recent weeks, reviving fears of a nuclear incident. A team of IAEA experts inspected the plant in early September.
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