A Chinese peace plan could provide a basis for a settlement of the fighting in Ukraine, when the West is ready for it, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
Speaking after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Mr Putin said Ukraine’s western allies so far have shown no interest in that.
He also said Britain plans to provide Ukraine with ammunition for battle tanks containing depleted uranium, saying it heralds the West switching to supplying Kyiv with weapons containing nuclear components.
Mr Putin said: “It looks like the West indeed intends to fight Russia until the last Ukrainian,” pointing out a British plan to provide Ukraine with tank rounds containing depleted uranium.
“If that happens, Russia will respond accordingly, given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.”
Mr Putin was speaking after Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit on Tuesday to Kyiv, stealing some of the global attention from Mr Xi, who was in Moscow to show support for Russia against the West over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The two visits, about 500 miles apart, highlighted the nearly 13-month-old war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind Moscow or Kyiv.
They follow a week in which China and Japan both enjoyed diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.
Mr Kishida, who is to chair the G7 summit in May, met President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital, and paid tribute to those killed in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians.
Mr Kishida’s visit was to “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelensky’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G7”, the Japanese foreign ministry said in announcing his trip to Kyiv.
Mr Kishida laid flowers at a church in Bucha for the town’s victims and said: “I would like to represent the people in Japan, and express my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones, were injured as a result of this cruel act.”
Washington is accelerating its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, choosing to send a refurbished older version that can be ready faster, US officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The aim is to get the 70-ton behemoths to the war zone in eight to 10 months, the officials said. The US has led efforts among Kyiv’s western allies to augment Ukraine’s military might.
Mr Putin warmly welcomed Mr Xi on Monday for a three-day visit the two major powers described as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship”.
Mr Putin is keen to show he has a heavyweight ally and also find a market for Russian energy products under western sanctions.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov accused Nato of wanting to become the world’s dominant military force and said Moscow is trying to prevent it.
“That is why we are expanding our cooperation with China, including in the security sphere,” he said.
Western officials “have seen some signs” that Mr Putin also wants lethal weapons from China, though there is no evidence Beijing has granted his request, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Tuesday.
“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “That would be to support an illegal war and only prolong the war.”
Mr Kishida was the only G7 leader who had not visited Ukraine and was under domestic pressure to do so.
Mr Kishida, Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone, was invited by Mr Zelensky in January to visit Kyiv.
Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has been limited to equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and drones, and humanitarian supplies including generators.
Japan has contributed more than £5.7 billion to Ukraine, and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing assistance and support for jobs and education, a rare move in a country that is known for its strict immigration policy.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing’s contacts with Russia will help to bring about peace.
“President Putin said that Russia appreciates China’s consistent position of upholding fairness, objectivity and balance on major international issues,” he said.
“Russia has carefully studied China’s position paper on the political settlement of the Ukrainian issue, and is open to peace talks.”
Asked about Mr Kishida’s trip to Kyiv, he added, “We hope Japan could do more things to de-escalate the situation instead of the opposite.”