Moscow and Beijing castigate NATO, sea route to get wheat out of Ukraine
Accused by NATO of “destabilizing the international order”, Moscow and Beijing have formed a common front against the Atlantic Alliance, whose summit ends Thursday in Madrid, while Russia has opened a sea route to export wheat from Ukraine to third countries.
“The leading countries of NATO wish (…) to affirm their hegemony, their imperial ambitions”, castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening during a trip to Ashkhabad, the Turkmen capital.
“The call for Ukraine to continue fighting and refuse negotiations only confirms our assumption that Ukraine and the good of the Ukrainian people is not the goal of the West and the NATO, but a way to defend their own interests,” he insisted.
Beijing made a common front with Moscow against NATO on Thursday, while the latter published a strategic roadmap on Wednesday presenting China for the first time as a “challenge” for its “interests”.
NATO “stubbornly persists (…) in smearing Chinese foreign policy”, accused a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian.
NATO’s strategic roadmap, which had not been revised since 2010, also presents Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of the allies” and denounces “the deep strategic partnership” between Beijing and Moscow “and their mutual attempts to destabilize the international order”.
– Export of cereals –
The authorities installed by the Russian occupation forces in southern Ukraine announced Thursday the departure of a first ship loaded with 7,000 tonnes of Ukrainian cereals from the port of Berdiansk, a first.
The war in Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, has heightened the risks of a global food crisis and calls have grown in recent weeks for Moscow to allow exports from Ukraine.
Ukraine has been accusing Russia for weeks of stealing its wheat crops from the regions occupied by the Russian army in southern Ukraine to sell it illegally internationally.
So far, shipments left, according to media and kyiv, by road and trains.
At the same time, the Russian army announced that it had withdrawn from Serpents’ Island, a strategic position in the Black Sea conquered by Moscow and which has been under Ukrainian bombardment in recent weeks.
This small emblematic island, located in the northwest of the Black Sea, near the Ukrainian and Romanian coasts, had been conquered from the start of the offensive in Ukraine, launched on February 24.
Presented as a “goodwill gesture”, “this decision will no longer allow kyiv to speculate on an imminent food crisis by saying that it is impossible to export cereals because of Russia’s total control over the northwest of the Black Sea,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
The Ukrainian army immediately hailed “the liberation of a strategic territory”.
– “As much as it takes” –
In Madrid, the NATO countries also validated an increase in the Alliance’s “high level of readiness” personnel, which will be increased to more than 300,000 soldiers, with a reinforcement of the workforce planned on its eastern flank.
The organization, which has validated its expansion to Sweden and Finland, after the lifting of the veto hitherto opposed by Turkey, has also agreed on a new aid plan for Ukraine, notably through the “supply of non-lethal military equipment”.
Several member states have announced in parallel new arms deliveries to kyiv, like the United Kingdom, which will release one billion pounds (1.16 billion euros) of additional aid.
“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” insisted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, referring to a “moral and political obligation” for the Alliance.
A message hailed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who welcomed the united front in Madrid from NATO countries in his daily address. “This is a special summit, a transformation summit, the Alliance is changing its strategy in response to Russia’s aggressive anti-European policies.”
– “Uninterrupted bombardment” –
On the front, the bombardments continued Thursday morning in the Donbass region (east), where the majority of the fighting is concentrated.
The city of Lysytchansk “lives under an uninterrupted bombardment of all kinds of weapons”, lamented the governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï, estimating that 15,000 civilians remain in the city.
This is the last major city to be conquered by the Russians in the Lugansk region, one of the two provinces of the industrial basin of the Donbass, which Moscow intends to fully control.
According to the Russian agency Ria Novosti, the forces of Moscow and the pro-Russian separatists claimed Thursday morning the capture of the refinery of the city.
However, the staff of the Ukrainian army affirmed at the same time that the fighting continued around this site, while the Russian forces are also trying to block access to the city.
Near Dnipro, in the center-east of the country, a bombardment also hit an agricultural company, destroying 40 tonnes of corn, according to regional authorities.
The fighting comes as the Ukrainian authorities announced that they had recovered 144 soldiers, including 95 “Azovstal defenders” from Mariupol as part of the “biggest exchange (of prisoners with Moscow) since the start of the Russian invasion”.
This exchange was confirmed Thursday morning by Russia, which said Thursday that it held “more than 6,000” Ukrainian prisoners of war.
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