China’s Xi to call Zelensky after Moscow visit; Nato forces gather in Norway

China’s Xi to call Zelensky after Moscow visit; Nato forces gather in Norway
From left: China's President Xi Jinping. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jack Taylor / Pool) | Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Hollie Adams / Pool)

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plan to speak by video link in what would be their first conversation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A video-link talk between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will happen after a visit by Xi to Moscow next week, the Wall Street Journal said. While there was no immediate official confirmation of that trip from either the Kremlin or Beijing, both countries have said for weeks that a Xi visit was in the works as China tries to position itself as a broker to end the conflict.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine rages thousands of kilometres away, Nato forces are gathering in Norway for joint drills as the defence alliance — along with Russia, China and others — vies for greater control of the Arctic.

Key developments

Russian arms exports seen falling amid war

Russian weapons sales fell in the five years including the war and are likely to decline further as the conflict undermines a key Kremlin export, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will probably put additional constraints on Russia’s ability to export arms, as it is likely to prioritise the production of arms for its own military over those for export,” Sipri said in a report.

“The multilateral sanctions, including wide-ranging trade restrictions, imposed on Russia, coupled with pressure from the USA and its allies on states not to acquire Russian arms, will also hamper its efforts to export arms.”

Weapons sales by Russia, the No 2 seller in the world, dropped by 31% in the 2018-2022 period from the previous five years, with sales falling to eight of its top 10 clients, Sipri said. Russia’s pending orders are also down, indicating the decline is likely to continue, according to Sipri.

Ukraine’s economy contracted 31.4% year on year in fourth quarter 

Gross domestic product fell by a seasonally adjusted 4.7% from the previous three months, according to the statistics office, as Russia targeted energy infrastructure with air strikes.

The government expects the economy to show a marginal rebound of 0.3% to 1% this year.

EU struggles to deliver ammunition rapidly

The European Union is struggling to figure out a way to fill Ukraine’s immediate ammunition needs. The bloc is expected to sign off on a joint ammunition procurement plan for the country as soon as next week, but it’s stalled on how to provide Kyiv with the 155mm shells it needs this year.

Ukraine has said it will need one million rounds this year, and Estonia has estimated that would cost around €4-billion.




Russia to tighten secrecy rules amid war 

Russia plans to tighten restrictions on access to state secrets with a draft law in Parliament banning security clearance for people with financial assets or real estate abroad held in their own name or through family members.

“This will help minimise the risks of pressure being applied by unfriendly countries to bearers of secret information,” Vasily Piskarev, the ruling-party legislator who proposed the plan, was cited by the state-run Tass news service as saying.

The draft would also clarify rules for limiting access to secret information by people considered a security risk, including in state companies, he said. At the same time, it would allow foreign trips for emergencies like medical treatment for those with security clearance.

Xi to hold call with Zelensky 

Xi and Zelensky plan to speak by video link, though no date has yet been set for the conversation, according to a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations. The president of Ukraine has long sought talks with China, which had emerged as one of Russia’s largest global supporters amid the conflict.

Beijing last month released proposals to achieve peace in Ukraine, but they were quickly rejected as one-sided by Kyiv’s allies in the US and Europe. Zelensky was less categorical, saying: “It’s good that China has started to talk about Ukraine” and welcoming Beijing’s commitment to the principle of territorial integrity.

Russia expands military draft eligibility

Russia plans to draft men up to the age of 30 for army service from 2024, up from 27 now, as it seeks to expand its military to 1.5 million.

At the same time, the lower age for eligibility for military service will be raised from 18 to 19 next year, 20 in 2025 and 21 in 2026, according to a draft law submitted to the lower house of Parliament. The move means students are exempt from service, but graduates would be eligible for conscription.

Putin in December approved the Defence Ministry’s plans to boost the size of his military to 1.5 million from the current target level of 1.15 million, though the Kremlin hasn’t said how fast the expansion will be.

One person dead in strike against village in northeastern Ukraine  

A Russian missile strike killed one person and wounded four in a village in the northeastern Sumy region, 5km from the border with Russia, the local administration said on Telegram.

Putin praises Chechen troops fighting in Ukraine

Putin hailed the contribution of Chechen troops to his invasion of Ukraine as the Caucasus Mountain region’s leader vowed to fight until “final victory”.

In a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov told Putin that popular support in his region for the war is strong. “Give the boys fighting my best,” Putin responded. “Thanks very much to them.”

Chechnya, the site of bloody fighting with Islamist separatists as recently as the early 2000s, has sent thousands of troops to fight in Ukraine.

Wagner chief says ammunition flowing from Russian Ministry of Defence  

The founder of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that he had resolved a dispute with the Ministry of Defence over a lack of shell supplies.

Wagner, which is leading a monthslong assault on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, received 27 trucks of ammunition over the past 48 hours, Prigozhin said in an audio message posted by his press service late on Sunday.

“There’s no conflict between fighters from Wagner and the Ministry of Defence,” he said.

Russia reopens the door on economic data, a bit

Russia’s Federal Customs Service said it’s resuming publication of some trade data suspended in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine last year.

The government had stopped the release of a broad range of indicators about a year ago in an effort to complicate outside efforts at assessing the impact of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. But with the economic hit from the restrictions less severe than many had expected, the government has been showing some openness of late.

The Customs Service reported only overall numbers for goods trade last year, putting exports at $591.5-billion and imports at $259.1-billion in 2022, according to Interfax. The Bank of Russia had already reported figures for goods and services trade. Customs didn’t provide a breakdown by country.




Putin to meet tycoons for first time since start of war

Putin plans to meet top business leaders in the Kremlin this week for the first time since he launched the invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with the preparations.

The 16 March gathering with the top members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) comes as the government, struggling to cover rising spending as the war enters its second year, is stepping up pressure on companies to pay more in taxes. Last year’s meeting with the tycoons was scrapped amid the fighting.

Where last year, many tycoons were worried that appearing publicly with Putin might make them targets of sanctions, most of the major RSPP board members now are subject to the restrictions.

Nato holds joint war drills in the Arctic

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is holding joint war exercises in Norway as it jockeys with Russia, China and others for greater control of the Arctic.

Estimates suggest that the Arctic region holds around one-fourth of the globe’s oil and natural gas resources, while its sea routes could shave days if not weeks off traditional commercial shipping passages.

The drills also suggest that regardless of what happens in Ukraine, Nato states are headed into a long-term climate of confrontation with Russia.

Russia says West continues to block its agriculture exports  

Russia reiterated ahead of Monday’s consultations with the UN in Geneva that the only part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative that has been effectively enforced is allowing Ukrainian exports, while its own agricultural shipments continue to be blocked by Kyiv’s allies, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website over the weekend.

The agreement, whose 120-day run ends on 18 March, has enabled the shipment of 24 million tonnes of Ukrainian crops since it was negotiated last July.

Russia was aware of various statements regarding the possible extension of the grain deal, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in the statement, adding that there had been no talks on this yet, especially with Russia’s participation. Hulusi Akar, the defence minister of Turkey, which brokered the deal, said his government expected the grain deal would be extended. DM


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