Ukraine allies vow to strengthen defenses as UN prepares for peace vote

Publicado: 23/02/2023

Warsaw (AFP) -

US President Joe Biden and European leaders in Warsaw vowed to strengthen defences 'from the Baltic to the Black Sea', as the UN General Assembly prepared to vote Thursday for 'lasting' peace on the eve of the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Nearly a year after Russian forces rolled into Ukraine, Biden on Wednesday attended a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and the heads of Eastern European countries to shore up support for Kyiv.

The leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia joined the talks amid widespread concern in their countries that the conflict could spill over.

The US leader had arrived in Warsaw after a surprise trip to the Ukrainian capital, during which he promised increased arms deliveries for Ukraine.

In a statement after Wednesday's meeting, the leaders vowed to further 'reinforce our deterrence and defense posture across the entire Eastern flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea.'

Stoltenberg urged allies to step up support for Ukraine, saying: 'We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security'.

In New York, the UN General Assembly met for a special session that was to debate a motion backed by Kyiv and its allies calling for a 'just and lasting peace' -- which will be brought to a vote Thursday.

'I appeal to you: this is a decisive moment to show support, unity and solidarity,' Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the UN.

'Never in recent history has the line between good and evil been so clear. One country merely wants to live. The other wants to kill and destroy,' he said.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's UN ambassador took aim at the West, saying it was 'ready to plunge the entire world into the abyss of war' to defeat Russia.

- 'Historical lands' -

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a patriotic rally Wednesday, telling a crowd of tens of thousands that Russia was fighting 'for our historical lands, for our people'.

The day before, the Russian leader had announced the suspension of Moscow's participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and promised to press on with the campaign in Ukraine during a state of the nation address.

Biden called the decision a 'big mistake', while news agency Ukrinform reported that a Ukrainian representative said Russia's 'nuclear terrorism threatens the whole world'.

Russia 'grossly violates the norms of international law, undermines the norms of nuclear and radiation safety,' Natalia Kostenko said during a meeting of the regional security OSCE forum in Austria on Wednesday.

Putin's decision was met with international condemnation, though Russia's foreign ministry later said Moscow would continue to comply with the treaty's restrictions in a 'responsible approach'.

- Wang in China -

The Russian leader also held talks with Beijing's top diplomat, Wang Yi, who was visiting Moscow after Washington and NATO voiced concern that China could be preparing to supply Russia with weapons.

At the start of the meeting with Wang, Putin said cooperation between Russia and China was 'very important to stabilise the international situation'.

A readout published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua after the meeting quoted Wang saying China was willing to 'deepen political trust' and 'strengthen strategic coordination' with Russia.

China would 'uphold an objective and fair position and play a constructive role in solving the crisis through political means', it said.

Beijing has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the war while maintaining close ties with strategic ally Russia.

It has previously said it was 'deeply concerned' and that the conflict was 'intensifying and even getting out of control'.

Wang was on the last stop of a European tour during which he also met with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Moscow said Wednesday that Beijing had presented its views on paths towards a 'political settlement' in Ukraine following Wang's visit.

'The Chinese partners briefed us on their views on the root causes of the Ukrainian crisis as well as approaches to its political settlement. There was no talk of any separate (peace) 'plan',' the Russian foreign ministry said.

A senior Ukrainian official told reporters that the Chinese government 'did not consult with us' on any political solution.

- Tensions with Wagner -

When the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, it was designed to be a rapid conquest leading to capitulation and the installation of a pro-Russian regime.

Since then, Russia has been forced to give up ground but has kept up a barrage of drone and missile attacks, while the military and civilian toll has spiralled.

Various Western sources estimate the conflict has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.

Moscow's relentless struggle to capture the city of Bakhmut has also exposed tensions between the Russian military and the Wagner mercenary group.

The group's head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on Wednesday urged Russians to pressure the country's regular army into sharing ammunition with his fighters in Ukraine.

The 61-year-old Putin ally has been involved in a bitter power struggle with the defence ministry for months as his forces spearhead the assault for towns in eastern Ukraine.

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