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Feb. 4, 2022, 9:05 a.m. ET1 hour ago

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Ukraine Live Updates: Putin and Xi Pledge ‘No Limits’ to Russia-China Ties

Meeting in Beijing in a choreographed show of solidarity, the Chinese leader backed Russia in its showdown with the West over Ukraine. In a joint statement, they opposed NATO expansion and accused the U.S. and the West of stoking instability.


RIGHT NOWAs diplomatic push continues, Macron will travel to Russia and Ukraine next week.

Here’s what you need to know:

Russia and China join in opposing any expansion of NATO.

A Ukraine conflict could embolden China as it contemplates Taiwan.

Chinese state media offered breathless coverage of the meeting.

Jens Stoltenberg will head Norway’s central bank after his NATO term ends.

Belarus, a Russian ally bordering Ukraine, may host nuclear arms again.

Russia has a history of launching invasions during (or just after) the Olympics.

Moscow has a staged Ukrainian ‘attack’ in the works, complete with video, the U.S. says.

Russia and China join in opposing any expansion of NATO.

Image

Credit...Pool photo by Alexei Druzhinin

BEIJING — President Xi Jinping of China on Friday offered firm support to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the Kremlin’s showdown with the West over Ukraine, strengthening a relationship that presents a continuing challenge to the United States’ dominance on the world stage.


In a highly choreographed display of solidarity, the two leaders met in Beijing ahead of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, the first meeting that Mr. Xi has held in person with a foreign counterpart in nearly two years.


It comes at a moment of escalating tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Mr. Putin has amassed more than 100,000 troops to his neighbors north, south and east in what NATO allies view as a menacing prelude to an attack.


In a lengthy joint statement, China accused the United States of stoking protests in Hong Kong and encouraging independence in Taiwan, while Russia said the United States was playing a similarly destabilizing role in Ukraine.


“Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions,” according to the 5,300-word joint statement released by the Kremlin. It said both nations “intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose color revolutions and will increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas.”


China has said that the world should not be divided into the kind of power blocs that defined the era when the Soviet Union and United States were the two dominant superpowers. And on Friday, China sided with Russia on one of its key security demands: an end to NATO expansion to the east and closer to Russia’s borders.


“The sides oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches,” the statement said.


Although the intention behind the troop buildup remains uncertain, the Kremlin has accused the United States of exaggerating the threat of an invasion and of raising tensions by deploying its own troops to Eastern Europe. This week, Mr. Putin said the United States was trying to goad the Kremlin into action and complained that the West had ignored Russia’s demands for security guarantees.


In scenes initially shown on Russian state television, Mr. Putin greeted Mr. Xi on a red carpet at the government guesthouse in western Beijing, raising his hand in greeting. The Chinese leader responded, through a translator: “Hello! I’m very glad to see you.”


Mr. Putin told him that the Chinese-Russian relationship had “taken on a truly unprecedented character.” “It is an example of a dignified relationship that helps each of us develop while supporting each other’s development,” Mr. Putin said.


After their meeting, Mr. Putin will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, as the most prominent of nearly two dozen world leaders whose attendance has blunted the impact of a “diplomatic boycott” by President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations.


Despite extraordinary measures both men have taken during the coronavirus pandemic, neither leader wore a mask as they greeted each other.


In the days leading up to the meeting — the 38th between the two leaders — Beijing expressed support for Mr. Putin’s grievances and it joined Russia to try to block action on Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council.


Although not a party to the conflict, the Chinese government has viewed the showdown as a test of American influence and resolve that could distract Mr. Biden from his administration’s focus on China as the pre-eminent strategic rival of the 21st century.


Any new Chinese promises of economic and political support for Mr. Putin could undermine Mr. Biden’s strategy to ostracize the Russian leader for the military buildup. They could also signal a tectonic shift in the rivalry between the United States and China, with possible reverberations from Europe to the Pacific.


Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin on Friday signaled that their countries would work to establish closer ties on trade, diplomacy and security.


“Friendship between the two states has no limits,” the pair said in their joint statement.


Claire Fu contributed research.


— Steven Lee Myers and Anton Troianovski


How Russia Has Increased Its Military Buildup Around Ukraine

Russia has continued to mass forces on the Ukrainian border, with troops now surrounding the country on all sides, including in Belarus and Transnistria, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Moldova.


As diplomatic push continues, Macron will travel to Russia and Ukraine next week.

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President Emmanuel Macron of France, left, with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in December in Brussels.Credit...Pool photo by Kenzo Tribouillard

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France will meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next week in Moscow and will then travel to Ukraine, the French presidency announced on Friday, as Western leaders continued a diplomatic blitz aimed at easing tensions in Eastern Europe.


Mr. Macron has moved to the forefront of Europe’s outreach to Mr. Putin, which has taken on urgency in the months since Russia’s military buildup started raising fears of an invasion of Ukraine. He has spoken over the phone with Mr. Putin five times since mid-December, and has met or talked with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine four times over the same period, according to his office.


French officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of de-escalating tensions and of keeping Russia engaged in dialogue. Mr. Macron has urged a more conciliatory approach toward Mr. Putin than his allies, including President Biden, with whom he spoke this week.


The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, confirmed that Mr. Putin and Mr. Macron would meet and characterized it as “an important visit” with “many topics on the agenda, most of all the discussion of the situation with the security guarantees.”


Moscow has demanded a halt to NATO expansion in former Soviet states, which the United States and the alliance have rejected. But the United States has indicated a willingness to negotiate with Russia on some limited security matters, including the placement of missiles in some Eastern European states that Moscow views as threatening.


Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Putin would discuss the U.S. response with Mr. Macron.



300 MILES


Moscow


RUSSIA


BELARUS


Border with


Russian units


Kyiv


UKRAINE


Russian


units


CRIMEA


BLACK SEA


Russia annexed


the Crimean


Peninsula from


Ukraine in 2014.


Transnistria, a


Russian-backed


breakaway region


of Moldova.


Approximate line


separating Ukrainian


and Russian-backed


forces.


Source: Rochan Consulting. The New York Times

The Kremlin has denounced the United States for deploying additional troops to Eastern Europe, saying the move would inflame tensions in the region, even as American officials say that Russia has continued to amass military forces on three sides of Ukraine.


Mr. Putin said this week that he was open to a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Ukraine. But he has continued to portray the United States and NATO as aggressors.


— Aurelien Breeden, Ivan Nechepurenko and Shashank Bengali

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A Ukraine conflict could embolden China as it contemplates Taiwan.

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Anti-tank fortifications along a beach in Kinmen, Taiwan, with a mainland Chinese skyline in the background.Credit...Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

For China, the fate of Taiwan has hovered in the background of the confrontation between Russia and the United States over Ukraine.


China’s ruling Communist Party regards the self-ruled island of Taiwan as Chinese territory that should eventually come under Beijing’s control. It is a position not unlike Vladimir V. Putin’s view of Ukraine as a historical and cultural part of Russia.


Both China and Russia have accused the United States of seeking to encroach on their spheres of influence by supporting democratic governance in Ukraine and Taiwan and by selling defensive weaponry.


Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that the crisis in Europe underscored the weaknesses of the United States. A protracted conflict would leave it less able to also focus simultaneously on a potential confrontation in the Pacific.


“The United States is in a sorry plight right now,” he said. The conflict, he added, would “further embolden China’s current very tough stance and military readiness on the Taiwan issue.”


Mr. Putin’s use of historical myths and sheer military power to justify seizing Ukraine has resonance among hawks in Beijing. Mr. Xi, too, has intensified his warnings that Taiwan must never seek independence from a united China under Communist Party rule.


“There is a strong link between the two flash points,” said Artyom Lukin, a professor of international studies at the Far Eastern Federal University in Russia.


At the same time, there are many differences in the geopolitical situations of Ukraine and Taiwan. One notable difference is that while the United States has flatly said it will not send troops to defend Ukraine, it has maintained “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan for decades and has left unsaid whether it would come to the armed defense of the island. That ambiguity has helped serve as a deterrent against a Chinese invasion.


— Steven Lee Myers

Chinese state media offered breathless coverage of the meeting.

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Friday.Credit...Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chinese state media covered the meeting on Friday between Russia’s and China’s top leaders in painstaking, sometimes fawning detail, as a sign of what they described as the unshakable unity between the countries.


Before the arrival of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Chinese media was blanketed with reports of a written interview Mr. Putin gave to a day earlier to a state media outlet. The interview highlighted not only Mr. Putin’s declarations of Russia-China economic and political cooperation, but also his tips for ice hockey lovers.


As Mr. Putin arrived in Beijing, China Central Television, the state broadcaster, documented every move, from his plane touching down to his motorcade proceeding to Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where China’s leader, Xi Jinping, waited to greet him.


“Beijing time Feb. 4, 3:10 p.m., Putin’s motorcade has arrived,” a CCTV anchor said. “The meeting between the Chinese and Russian leaders is about to officially begin.”


Another reporter with the state broadcaster stood on the tarmac as the plane landed, holding a stuffed polar bear and a stuffed panda. “I specially brought two little friends to wait for the plane with me,” she said, explaining that they were the mascots of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in Russia, and the 2022 Beijing Olympics.


“Today, these two friends meeting on this special day extends their formal ice and snow friendship,” she added.


Another video by CCTV, posted Friday evening, featured a montage of Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi over the years — clinking champagne glasses, riding in a speedboat, peering at a panda — set to a soundtrack of swelling orchestral music.


On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, many users welcomed Mr. Putin and said that they hoped for closer ties between China and Russia, especially given tensions with the United States. A hashtag about it being Mr. Putin’s first trip abroad this year was trending on Friday, and had been viewed 17 million times.


Still, Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, cautioned against overstating the significance of the meeting. He said that while ties between the countries were deepening, they still fell short of a formal alliance. Neither country had pledged military support to the other in case of conflict in Ukraine or Taiwan, he added.


As a result, each leader would continue to make his own strategic calculations largely independent of the other, he said.


“China of course doesn’t want to see war in Ukraine, and it especially doesn’t want to see tensions escalate during the Olympics,” Professor Shi said. But “in Putin’s calculations, he is thinking about Ukraine, NATO, America’s Eastern European allies and America itself. China is at the back.”


— Vivian Wang and Joy Dong

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Jens Stoltenberg will head Norway’s central bank after his NATO term ends.

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Jens Stoltenberg last October at NATO headquarters in Brussels.Credit...Stephanie Lecocq/EPA, via Shutterstock

BRUSSELS — NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, will become Norway’s new central bank chief, the government said on Friday. He will take up the job at some point between March and the end of the year.


Mr. Stoltenberg, 62, was set to finish his term at NATO by Oct. 1, and given the current crisis over Russia and Ukraine, he is not likely to leave Brussels any time soon. Mr. Stoltenberg said on Friday in Oslo that he would devote his full attention to NATO until the end of his term. The bank said it hoped he would start in the post around Dec. 1.


NATO’s 30 members are already quietly debating who might succeed him, with leaders likely to discuss the issue at the alliance’s next summit meeting, in June in Madrid.


Mr. Stoltenberg has served as the head of NATO since 2014 and was asked to stay on twice after his first term, in large part because he had established a decent, if sometimes tense, working relationship with President Donald J. Trump, a regular critic of the alliance.


The appointment of Mr. Stoltenberg, who served as Norway’s prime minister for nine years in the early 2000s, to the banking post has been controversial at home. Critics have argued that he has little banking background, though he did serve as finance minister from 1996 to 2000, and that his appointment is evidence of uncomfortably close political connections in a country of only about 5.4 million people.


Ida Wolden Bache, the deputy chief of the central bank and Mr. Stoltenberg’s main rival for the job, will be the bank’s acting governor until Mr. Stoltenberg takes over, the government said. Both Ms. Bache and Mr. Stoltenberg were asked to apply for the job.


Ms. Bache, a career economist, holds a Ph.D. in economics and has worked mostly at the central bank since 1998. She would have been the first woman to head the bank.


The announcement was made by Norway’s finance minister, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, whose Center Party is a junior partner in coalition with the Labour Party, to which Mr. Stoltenberg belongs and which he led for 12 years. Mr. Stoltenberg is also a close friend of the current prime minister, Jonas Gahr Store, who also served in Mr. Stoltenberg’s government. Mr. Store said he had recused himself from involvement in the appointment. Opposition parties said that they intended to look into the appointment process but were unlikely to try to overturn the decision.


Mr. Stoltenberg’s supporters emphasize his international experience and credibility, arguing that he will be a good director of Norway’s enormous sovereign wealth fund, derived from oil and gas revenues. The fund, one of the largest in the world, with assets of about $1.4 trillion, is administered by the bank and he will be its chairman.


A NATO official on Friday acknowledged Mr. Stoltenberg’s new appointment, but dismissed concerns about any adverse consequences for the alliance by citing Mr. Stoltenberg’s vow that he would stay focused on his current job until the end of his term.


Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Henrik Pryser Libell from Oslo.


— Steven Erlanger and Henrik Pryser Libell

Belarus, a Russian ally bordering Ukraine, may host nuclear arms again.

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President Alexandr Lukashenko of Belarus, right, and his defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, center, with Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, on Thursday.Credit...Maxim Guchek/Belta, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Belarus has been free of nuclear weapons for nearly three decades, an outcome of the Soviet Union’s breakup and Belarus’s 1994 Constitution. But the escalating tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine have raised the possibility that Belarus, an ally of the Kremlin, will host its nuclear-armed missiles once again.


A clause in the Constitution aimed at keeping nuclear arms out of Belarus, a former Soviet republic, could be deleted under changes proposed in a constitutional referendum scheduled for Feb. 27. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian leader, supports the revision.


Mr. Lukashenko, who has drawn increasingly close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, suggested the possibility that Belarus could host Russian nuclear weapons in November, during an interview with a Russian state media outlet.


Asked how he would respond if NATO moved nuclear weapons into neighboring Poland, Mr. Lukashenko said: “I would offer Putin to return nuclear weapons to Belarus.”


Mr. Lukashenko’s foreign minister, Vladimir Makei, raised the idea again in December. Russian officials also have spoken about it.


Belarus is just north of Ukraine, and thousands of the troops that Russia has moved to Ukraine’s borders have been deployed there.


Disarmament activists and Belarus opposition figures have expressed alarm about Belarus’s referendum, saying that the Ukraine crisis threatened to turn the clock back to the era when Europe bristled with nuclear weapons.


“With little notice, nuclear disarmament gains made at the end of the Cold War are under threat of being rolled back,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva-based group that was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work. “Belarus undermining democracy and abandoning its nuclear-weapon-free promise at this time will only add fuel to the fire.”


Ms. Fihn traveled this week to Lithuania, where on Thursday she met with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader, who fled her homeland when Mr. Lukashenko crushed the protests that followed the disputed 2020 presidential election.


Ms. Tikhanovskaya said in a statement that nuclear weapons in Belarus would represent “an unthinkable departure from the concept of Belarus as a responsible donor of regional security.”


— Rick Gladstone

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Russia has a history of launching invasions during (or just after) the Olympics.

Image


Russian armored vehicles in Georgia on Aug. 9, 2008, the day after the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.Credit...Musa Sadulayev/Associated Press

As Beijing prepared to officially open the Winter Olympics on Friday, athletes there did not have the world’s undivided attention. In another part of the capital, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, was preparing to host President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.


The United States and NATO have been warning for weeks that Russia may be on the brink of invading Ukraine. If that were to happen before Feb. 20, it would not be the first time in recent memory that Russia troops had marched into a former Soviet republic during the Olympics.


As Beijing was hosting the opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Games, news spread that Russian troops had moved into Georgia. At the time, Russia’s president was Dmitri A. Medvedev (who held the office for four years while Mr. Putin was prime minister). But it was Mr. Putin’s stern statements, issued from the Beijing Olympics, that appeared to define his country’s position.


In 2014, Russian troops began streaming into Crimea days after Mr. Putin returned to Moscow from the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi. The invasion was a response to the ouster of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, in late February, during the Games. Mr. Putin later reclaimed Crimea as part of Russia, saying that the Soviet Union’s transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian republic in 1954 had been a historic injustice.


In recent days, China has expressed support for Mr. Putin’s recent grievances against the United States and NATO policies on Ukraine. It has also joined Russia to try to block action on the Ukraine crisis at the United Nations Security Council.


Mr. Putin, for his part, recently wrote an article for a Chinese state news agency in which he appeared to chide President Biden and other leaders for saying that diplomats from their countries would not attend the Olympic opening ceremony. The boycott is a gesture of protest against China’s human rights abuses.


But none of that necessarily suggests that Mr. Xi is eager to have the Winter Olympics — a means for China to proclaim its sweeping vision of prosperity and self-confidence — overshadowed by yet another Russian invasion in Eastern Europe.


Wendy R. Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, said in late January that the United States was aware that Mr. Putin planned to attend the opening ceremony.


“I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine,” she said during a virtual conversation hosted by Yalta European Strategy conference. “So that may affect his timing and his thinking.”


Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.


— Mike Ives

Moscow has a staged Ukrainian ‘attack’ in the works, complete with video, the U.S. says.

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TRANSCRIPT


U.S. Accuses Russia of Planning to Fabricate an Attack by Ukraine

During a testy exchange with a reporter in which he was pressed for evidence, Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesman, said Moscow’s plot involved staging an attack by the Ukrainian military.

“The United States has information that Russia is planning to stage fabricated attacks by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces as a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine. One possible option the Russians are considering, and which we made public today, involves the production of a propaganda video, a video with graphic scenes of false explosions depicting corpses, crisis actors pretending to be mourners, and images of destroyed locations or military equipment, entirely fabricated by Russian intelligence.” “What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?” “Matt, this is derived from information known to the U.S. government, intelligence information that we have declassified. I think you know —” “OK, well, where, where is it? Where is this information?” “It is intelligence information that we have declassified.” “Well, where is it? Where is the declassified information?” “I just delivered it.” “No, you made a series of allegations and say them —” “Would you like us to print it out the topper? Because you will see a transcript of this briefing that you can print out for yourself.” “That’s not evidence, Ned. That’s you saying it. That’s not evidence. I’m sorry.” “It seems to me that it should not be outlandish that the Russians may be engaging in this activity again.” “Not being outlandish doesn’t mean that you have any proof that has happened or being planned.” “The second point, the second point —” “Hold on, Ned, you can’t just — all of that may very well be true, probably is true, OK. But it doesn’t provide any evidence of what you’re alleging now.”







1:36

U.S. Accuses Russia of Planning to Fabricate an Attack by Ukraine

During a testy exchange with a reporter in which he was pressed for evidence, Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesman, said Moscow’s plot involved staging an attack by the Ukrainian military.CreditCredit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Hoping to strip Moscow of a pretext to invade Ukraine, American officials on Thursday detailed what they said was a plot to fabricate an elaborate, camera-ready “attack” on Russian interests and then release the video.


The plot was far enough along that corpses for the footage had already been found, and plans were underway to cast actors and alter military equipment so it would look Ukrainian, according to senior administration officials and others briefed on the material.


The plan — which the United States hopes to spoil by making it public — involves staging and filming a fabricated attack by the Ukrainian military either on Russian territory or against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.


Russia, the officials said, intended to accuse Ukraine of genocide against Russian-speaking people. It would then use the outrage over the video to justify an attack or have separatist leaders in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine invite a Russian intervention.


Officials would not release any direct evidence of the Russian plan or how they learned of it, saying to do so would compromise their sources and methods. But both a recent Russian disinformation campaign focused on false accusations of genocide and recent steps in the Russian parliament to recognize breakaway governments in Ukraine appeared to lend credence to the intelligence.


The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, dismissed the American allegations in comments carried Thursday evening by Russian news agencies. “This isn’t the first report of its kind,” he said. “Similar things have been claimed before. But nothing ever came of them.”


— Julian E. Barnes

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