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Ukraine updates: Chinese defense minister meets with Putin

April 17, 2023

Putin said Russia and China are cooperating closely on strategic issues. Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the G7 have reiterated their support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. DW has the latest.

Li Shangfu, Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu talking around a table
China's defense minister Li Shangfu met with Vladimir Putin in MoscowImage: Pavel Bednyakov/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

China's Defense Minister Li Shangfu hailed his country's military ties with Moscow on Sunday after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This is my first overseas visit since taking over as China's defense minister. I specifically chose Russia for this in order to emphasize the special nature and strategic importance of our bilateral ties," Li said in translated remarks that were broadcast on Russian TV.

China has presented itself as a neutral party in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but Western states have accused Beijing of tacitly supporting Russia's war.

"We have very strong ties," Li added. "They surpass the military-political alliances of the Cold War era... They are very stable."

At the meeting, which was also attended by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin welcomed "trusting" and "strategic" military cooperation with China.

"We are also working actively through the military departments, regularly exchange useful information, cooperate in the field of military-technical cooperation, conduct joint exercises," the Russian leader said.

Li's trip to Russia is due to last until April 19.

How reassuring is China's pledge not to send arms to Russia?

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Monday, April 17:

Russia wants end to Ukraine conflict as soon as possible — Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told his Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira that Moscow was "interested in bringing the Ukrainian conflict to an end as soon as possible."

Before that Lavrov thanked Brazil for its "understanding of the genesis of the situation in Ukraine."

Lavrov is on the first leg of a Latin America tour which also includes Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has pushed for a diplomatic approach for peace and has been critical of the West's approach of supplying arms to Ukraine.

Human rights organization uncovers possible war crimes

Russian human rights organization Gulagu.net has published what it says are interviews with two Russian prisoners who claim to have fought for the Wagner Group in Ukraine.

The soldiers claim to have killed children and civilians in Soledar and Bakhmut, saying they had been ordered to do so.

"She is screaming, she's a little kid, you know, 5, maybe 6 years old. And I took a kill shot, you know?" one of the men says.

"The order was to do a sweep, to liquidate everyone," the man adds.

When questioned who gave the orders to do so, he mentions his superior who was under the command of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who he says ordered "not to let anyone out."

The other man interviewed said that they had been ordered to kill teenagers. "There was an order to shoot everyone 15 and older. We shot about 10 of these 15, 16, 17 year olds."

He also claims dozens of former prisoners refusing order were shot in his presence and also said he threw grenades into a pit containing wounded Ukrainians and Russians.

None of the accounts published by Gulagu.net could be immediately confirmed with other sources.

EU Commission says Ukrainian grain import bans 'unacceptable'

The European Commission has criticized the decision of a number of EU member states to halt Ukrainian grain imports.

Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have recently banned the import of agricultural products, including wheat and oilseeds, from Ukraine.

Commission spokeswoman Miriam Garcia Ferrer stressed that member states could not make decisions on trade policy unilaterally.

"In this context, it is important to underline that trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable," she said.

"In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU."

The spokeswoman said that Brussels was "requesting further information from the relevant authorities to be able to assess the measures."

The EU temporarily suspended tariffs for Ukraine after Russia started its invasion in February 2022. A decision to renew the suspension is due to be made before the end of June.

The governments of Poland and Hungary argue that local farmers face disproportionate competition from Ukrainian imports under the suspended tariff regime. The two countries said the bans will last until June 30.

Meanwhile, Slovakia has banned the sale of Ukrainian wheat as food and animal feed, citing concerns over suspected pesticides in the products.

The EU gave affected member states nearly €60 million ($64.8) million in agricultural aid. Garcia said on Monday that a second package was under discussion.

Russian opposition figure sentenced to 25 years in prison 

A Russian court on Monday found Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza guilty of treason and other charges.

He has been sentenced to 25 years in prison — the harshest sentence for an opposition figure since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Kara-Murza, a politician and journalist, has long called for Western sanctions against Russia and has criticized the war in Ukraine.

The United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk immediately called for the opposition figure to be released.

"Kara-Murza was tried on charges that appear related to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of opinion, expression, and association, including his public criticism of the Russian Federation's armed attack against Ukraine," Turk said.

"No one should be deprived of their liberty for exercising their human rights, and I call on the Russian authorities to release him without delay."

Germany and the United Kingdom also condemned the court ruling against Kara-Murza.

G7 leaders reaffirm Ukraine support

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies have reiterated their support for Ukraine at a meeting in Hiroshima, Japan.

The group remained "committed to intensifying, fully coordinating and enforcing sanctions against Russia," Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the first session on Monday.

"Also, in addition to condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the G7 foreign ministers reaffirmed that Russia's irresponsible nuclear rhetoric is unacceptable," the statement said. 

"Furthermore, they concurred into reinforcing coordination to prevent and respond to evasion of sanctions as well as third party weapon supply to Russia." 

Speaking more broadly about the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said "we will firmly reject any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force."

Slovakia delivers jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has delivered all 13 of the MiG-29 fighter jets it had pledged to Ukraine, the Slovak Defense Ministry announced on Monday.

"We have managed to transfer the fighter jets that are no longer useful for Slovakia itself, which will protect innocent lives in Ukraine from Russian murder," Slovakia's Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Facebook.

Slovakia joined Poland in promising the jets in March as Kyiv pushed for an international "fighter jet coalition" similar to how Western countries provided main battle tanks in previous months.

Nine of the Slovakian jets were transported overland for safety reasons, after the first four were flown out by Ukrainian pilots.

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

Russia has unveiled new electronic conscription notices to make it easier to draft men for the invasion of Ukraine. DW looks at how this will work and whether it will preempt another mobilization.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, called for a ceasefire in Ukraine in a recent blog post. DW reports on how his public position changed.

zc,sdi/rt,dj (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)