While some comments from Ukrainian, Russian and US officials raised the possibility of progress in negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow, which are due to resume Monday, Putin defied an appeal from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday for an immediate ceasefire. And there is every sign that the Russian leader, despite presiding over an invasion that has turned Russia into an economic and diplomatic pariah, plans to callously press on and destroy Ukraine to further his personal ambition of preventing it ever joining the West.
None of these developments suggest the war is approaching a point where ceasefire negotiations or peace talks might succeed. And the risks of a wider conflict appear to be deepening.
US warns China against offering Russia a ‘lifeline’
In fact, the story of the invasion, which was for its early days dominated by the heroic resistance of the outnumbered Ukrainians and Zelensky, appears to be taking a dark turn. Putin seems impervious to the human toll his actions have wrought in a conflict that may be critical to his own capacity to stay in power in Moscow.
In another new dimension to what is threatening to become a broader geopolitical showdown, the United States warned China that it must not provide a “lifeline” to help Russia evade sanctions strangling its economy over its brutal invasion, ahead of crucial talks between senior US and Chinese officials in Europe on Monday.
“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Sullivan said. “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.” Sullivan, who will meet Chinese counterpart in Rome on Monday, did not say whether Chinese firms or government entities would face sanctions if they helped Russia.
When asked by CNN about the reporting of Russia’s request for military aid, Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the US, said in a statement, “I’ve never heard of that.”
There is no publicly available indication that Beijing is helping Putin’s war effort — and there are reasons why China may not see its interests as fully mirroring Moscow’s in this situation. It is widely assumed that Xi will secure a historic third term in power during the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress in Beijing this fall. During such an important year, the Chinese government could be wary of its firms facing knock-on sanctions. Spiking oil prices could, in the long term, damage its economy at a time when its runaway growth rates are slowing.
Western and international sanctions have pitched the Russian economy and banking system into a deep crisis, but the extreme pain they will inflict may not come quickly enough to save Ukraine from Putin’s relentless barrage. Any Chinese aid, if it happened, could weaken the Western chokehold on the Russian economy and ease political pressure on Putin for a change of course.
The war is becoming more dangerous
Putin is intensifying his bombardment of Ukraine rather than stepping back.
In another sign of Putin’s aggressive intent, after more than three weeks being bogged down in the country, his troops were within 15.5 miles of the capital Kyiv, according to British intelligence on Saturday.
There were conflicting signs in Europe and Washington on Sunday about the prospects of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials, which so far have yielded little progress, as well as about a broader international diplomatic effort to get Putin to agree to a ceasefire. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman argued on Fox on that the pressure from sanctions was beginning to have an effect on the Russian leader.
“We are seeing some signs of a willingness to have real serious negotiations,” Sherman said. But she added: “It appears that Vladimir Putin is intent on destroying Ukraine.” Sullivan was downbeat on the prospects for diplomacy on “State of the Union,” saying Putin “does not look like he is prepared to stop the onslaught.”
Still, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said he thinks talks could “achieve concrete results” in the next few days since Russia has started to talk “constructively.” And Leonid Slutsky, a Russian delegation member for the talks, said “significant progress” has been made in negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation since they began, Russian state news agency RIA reported.
But the sides appear far apart in principle — with Ukraine demanding a withdrawal of Russian troops. Moscow went into the conflict calling on NATO to pull back troops from former Warsaw Pact states in eastern Europe, which is even less likely now given Russia’s treatment of Ukraine.
And nothing Putin has done so far suggests that he is contemplating a reversal of a plan that has laid waste to vast areas of Ukraine and now appears to be zeroing in on Kyiv for the decisive battle.