Diplomacy Quickens to Halt Ukraine War or Stop Its Expansion

LONDON – Diplomacy was swift on multiple fronts Monday as Russia’s war with Ukraine entered a new phase of uncertainty, with President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces expanding their fire. Destroying Kyiv and other cities, hundreds of civilians escaped from the devastated port of Mariupol, and the United States warned China of its deepening ties to an isolated Russia.

There was no breakthrough, either on the negotiating table or on the battlefield. But as the human cost of the war continues to mount, the explosion of events suggests that people are looking for a way out of the crisis – or, failing, to prevent it from turning into a crisis. broader proxy wars.

In Rome, President Biden’s top national security aide, Jake Sullivan, met with a top Chinese foreign official, Yang Jiechi, to try to weed out one of the country’s few potential allies. Putin, following reports – denied by Moscow and Beijing – that Russia had sought military aid from China, and that Chinese leaders were ready to accommodate such a request. Mr Sullivan, a Biden administration official, said he expressed “deep concern” about “China’s alignment at this time”.

Ukrainian and Russian officials held another round of face-to-face talks, adjourned with no signs of progress, although they agreed to meet again on Tuesday. The talks took place amid thunderous attacks by Russian artillery that prompted United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to declare Ukraine “is being destroyed before the eyes of the world”.

Mr. Guterres extremely angry accused Russia of attacking 24 medical facilities and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without water or electricity. Once predicting there would be no war in Ukraine, he now warns of a catastrophic wave of world hunger and food inflation as Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain producers. gender.

The impact on civilians, Mr. Guterres said, is “of terrifying proportions.”

In one of dozens of episodes of violence, a rocket struck an apartment complex in a once peaceful residential area of ​​Kyiv shortly after dawn on Monday, when many residents were asleep. They were used to the pounding of artillery fire after more than two weeks of Russian bombardment, but never thought that their building would be hit.

Yuriy Yurchik, 30, said: “We have no military targets near us.

However, amid the terrifying drumming, there were also flashes of resilience. According to local authorities, hundreds of people escaped Mariupol by car, even as a convoy of food, water and medicine convoys struggled to find a safe route through the raging battle. around that southeastern port city almost since the war began. Relatives of those still living in Mariupol say fleeing seems to offer the best, perhaps only, chance of survival.

“I don’t believe the humanitarian convoy will help many people,” said Oleksandr Kryvoshapro, a humanitarian activist with parents in Mariupol. “There are too many people still there. And this beautiful, huge and ever-evolving city is now completely destroyed. Can’t live there anymore.”

An estimated 400,000 people are stranded in Mariupol, which is entering its second week without heat, food or clean water. Attempts to reach the city and evacuate residents failed day after day amid fierce fighting. Officials said the convoy on the road Monday was carrying 100 tons of relief goods.

Russia is besieging the city, a major industrial hub on the Sea of ​​Azov, creating a humanitarian disaster that prompts the International Committee of the Red Cross to issue an urgent call for a ceasefire to aid hundreds of thousands of people. people. no access to clean water, food or heat.

“The dead bodies, of civilians and fighters, are still trapped under the rubble or lying where they fell,” the ICRC said.

Casualty figures are difficult to confirm during the conflict. The United Nations estimates that at least 596 civilians have been killed, but that number is considered low due to the organization’s inability to reach all areas of the fighting. Ukrainian officials say more than 2,500 people have died in Mariupol alone.

The split-screen images of slow diplomacy and sudden, brutal attacks on multiple civilian targets underscore the challenges of finding an acceptable shortcut. for Mr. Putin, even after a campaign that nearly all accounts say has gotten much worse. Russian than expected.

The Kremlin, facing considerable uncompromising Ukrainian resistance and heavy battlefield losses, vowed to carry out the “full” conquest of the country and on schedule. (It is unclear what that schedule was, although Russia denied, until shortly before the invasion, that it had any plans to send troops into Ukraine.) of restraint.

In response to Western claims that Russian forces are proceeding “behind the scenes” in major cities, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said that Putin ordered the Russian military ” refrain from attacking major cities including Kyiv” prior to 24 February invasion. The reason, he said, is that “armed clashes in urban areas will inevitably lead to massive civilian casualties.” But he added that the cities “are practically besieged.”

Interpreting Mr. Peskov’s statements is difficult, but they do not appear to indicate the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

On Monday, Putin spoke again with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, continuing Israel’s reconciliation efforts. A senior Israeli official said the 90-minute call focused on a possible ceasefire and followed up on a call between Mr. Bennett and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Saturday night.

The prospect of China joining Russia, however, increases the risk of a conflict that already threatens to drag the West down. It would reduce the impact of a transatlantic campaign to isolate Russia, relieve some of the economic pressure on Mr Putin and give him a potential weapons supplier to counter the inflows. Ukrainian troops from the United States and other NATO countries.

“It really risks turning Ukraine into a proxy conflict where there could be a broader geopolitical competition,” said Evan S. Medeiros, professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University. between China and Russia with the United States and its allies on the one hand. and former China policymaker in the Obama administration.

Mr. Sullivan’s seven-hour meeting with Mr. Duong was planned long before the invasion, but came a day after US officials told reporters about a request from Moscow about the invasion. support from Beijing – a test of a new commitment to working together pledged by Mr. Putin and President Xi Jinping during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics last month. US intelligence agencies have learned of the Russian request in recent days.

It appears the request could include drones, secure communications and financial assistance, US officials said, though details were unclear. A European official said on Monday that the United States had told its allies in diplomatic cables that China had given Russia a positive signal, a European official said on Monday, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of exchanges.

Mr. Sullivan was “directly informed about those concerns and the potential impacts and consequences of certain actions,” an administration official said. But the official declined to give specifics about his exchange with Yang, China’s former ambassador to the United States.

China, which has urged a peaceful resolution of the conflict and maintains good relations with Ukraine, has refused to accept any requests for help from Moscow. But with much of the rest of the world cutting off trade, financial transactions and other economic interactions with Russia, which threatens to plunge the country into default, Mr. Putin is clearly believing into his relationship with Mr. Xi to help him resist domination. economic pressure – and perhaps emerge as an important military ally.

Clearly, the intelligence leak for which Russia sought China’s help was designed to put pressure on both sides. It is humiliating for Mr. Putin, who is extremely sensitive to suggestions that he is a junior partner in relations between Moscow and Beijing.

But it also puts China in a difficult position. Just before the Russian invasion, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had no doubt that Beijing opposed military action. “The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and protected,” he said. “Ukraine is no exception.”

If China provided military or economic support, it would violate that principle and risk being involved in the carnage that is taking place. The White House has made it clear that it will respond to any attempt to bail out Russia.

“Support of any kind,” will have consequences for that, said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Mr. Biden. ”

Mark Landler reported from London, and David E. Sanger from New York. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Kyiv, Ukraine, Marc Santora from Lviv, Ukraine, Eric Schmitt, Edward Wong and Julian Barnes from Washington, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva , and Richard Pérez-Peña, Farnaz Fassihi and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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