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The deepening relationship between China and Russia was due in large part to their mutual interest in challenging the US' global influence, John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour Tuesday.
“Where they intersect is pushing back on the United States and our influence around the world," Kirby said. "Where they intersect is pushing back on this thing we call the rules-based international order. Which I know sounds kind of like a wonky term, but it’s basically the rule of law and the foundational principles of the UN charter by which nations around the world are supposed to abide. And they’re pushing back against that."
Kirby's remarks come as Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin forge closer ties in Moscow in a show of unity that has heightened Western concerns that Beijing will provide cover for Russia's war in Ukraine.
"They’d like to change the rules of the game," Kirby said. "And in each other they see a useful foil. They see a useful friend. But that’s what they’re doing. They’re basically trying to use each other here to challenge US leadership and the West — particularly in Europe — but elsewhere around the world.”
In a joint statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, Xi and Putin said their partnership is in the “fundamental interests” of both countries, adding that “Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.”
The United States defers to Ukraine’s leadership in its prioritization of the hard-fought battle for Bakhmut, and will continue to ensure the country's president has “what he needs, wherever he chooses to fight, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.
Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour whether Kyiv was spending too much time in the fight for Bakhmut, Kirby said Ukrainians are still "bravely fighting" in the eastern city and the area is "very vicious."
"Here we are on the 21st of March and Bakhmut still has not fallen to the Russians," Kirby said.
"So the Ukrainians are prioritizing this fight — the Russians have clearly prioritized this fight, and what we’re going do is stay focused on making sure that President [Volodymyr] Zelensky has what he needs, wherever he chooses to fight. That means intelligence. That means support. That means weapons. That means capabilities. That’s what we’re going to be focused on.”
Battles to come: Ukraine is preparing to launch a spring offensive against Russian forces, built largely around the more powerful and more advanced systems Western countries have agreed to send, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
Kirby said the coming weeks would be "critical," in the war and the US expected Russian President Vladimir Putin would "try to mount another offensive and maybe along many different vectors."
"We have got to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure Ukraine is ready for that," he said.
Kirby said the US wants to ensure Ukrainians can defend themselves against any renewed Russian offensive while also having the flexibility to "conduct offensive operations of their own at a time and place and a size and a scale of their choosing."
"That’s where we’re taking battalions out of Ukraine right now and putting them through combined arms maneuver training," he said. "That’s why they’re ramping up training on things like the Patriot air defense system. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that they’re ready as best they can be before these critical weeks and months ahead.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “serious concerns” about the security pact AUKUS grouping — comprised of Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States — and NATO, according to a joint statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry Wednesday.
China and Russia also voiced concern about the nuclear-powered submarine cooperation plan among the AUKUS and urged members to “strictly fulfill their obligations not to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.”
The leaders raised serious concerns about NATO’s “continuous strengthening of military-security ties with Asia-Pacific countries” and said they “oppose external military forces undermining regional peace and stability.”
In the statement, the countries emphasized their partnership is in the “fundamental interests” of both countries, adding that “Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.” The leaders also said they will develop a closer energy partnership and continue to strengthen their cooperation in the financial sector.
In regard to Ukraine, both sides pointed out in the statement that to resolve the crisis, “the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be respected, and camp confrontation and fueling the fire must be prevented."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held official joint events in the Kremlin Tuesday, where the two pledged to deepen China-Russia ties.
The show of unity has heightened concerns that Beijing will provide cover for Russia's war in Ukraine. In fact, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday the alliance has "seen some signs" that Russia has likely requested lethal aid from China to bolster Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
During their joint events Tuesday, the two leaders also called for an end to actions that “increase tensions” and prolong the war in Ukraine, attended a state dinner and signed a joint declaration on deepening their partnership.
Here are other headlines:
Surveillance drones. The United States is flying surveillance drones further south above the Black Sea after a Russian jet collided with a US drone last week, according to two US officials. The drone flights have remained in international airspace, but since the collision, the US has moved its drone flights further away from airspace surrounding the Crimean peninsula and eastern portions of the Black Sea.
Russian strikes. Three people were injured in a Russian missile attack on the Odesa region on Tuesday, according to Andriy Yermak, head of the Presidential Office in Ukraine.
The fight for Bakhmut. The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut remains the focus of Russia's attacks. A Ukrainian army major in the area said the situation remains extremely difficult in the city, but he believes the Russians are losing their "offensive potential."
Military aid. The US has changed course and is now providing Ukraine with 31 M1-A1 Abrams tanks instead of the newer M1-A2 variants previously planned, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday. Patriot missile defense systems are also set to be deployed to Ukraine faster than originally planned, and a group of 65 Ukrainian soldiers will complete their training on the systems at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the coming days, US defense officials said on Tuesday. But Ukraine has more requests: A senior Ukrainian air force official said the country needs modern combat aircraft as it squeezes the most out of its diminishing Soviet-era fleet.
The United States is flying surveillance drones further south above the Black Sea after a Russian jet collided with a US drone last week, according to two US officials
The drone flights have remained in international airspace, but since the collision between one of the Russian jets and the MQ-9 Reaper drone last Tuesday, the US has moved its drone flights further away from airspace surrounding the Crimean peninsula and eastern portions of the Black Sea.
One of the officials said the routes are part of an effort “to avoid being too provocative,” as the Biden administration remains careful to avoid an incident that could potentially escalate into a direct conflict between US and Russian forces.
The official said the drone flights would continue this way “for the time being,” but added there is already “an appetite” to return to the routes closer to Russian-held territory. The officials also said Russia may try to unilaterally declare a broader closure of airspace around southern and eastern Ukraine in an attempt to force US drone flights further out.
On Tuesday, FlightRadar24, a commercial flight tracking website, showed a US RQ-4 Global Hawk — which is a remotely-piloted aircraft used for surveillance — remaining in the southern and southwestern portions of the Black Sea at an altitude of approximately 52,000 feet.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday the US was continuing to operate drones of the Black Sea, “flying in international airspace in accordance with international law.”
But he declined to say whether the US had changed its routes or mission profiles following last week’s encounter between a US spy drone and two Russian fighter jets.
“I’m not going to, for operational security reasons, not going to get into the specifics of routes, missions, timelines, things like that,” Ryder said at a press briefing.
Memorial, a Russian human rights group, said one of its leading figures was arrested in Moscow on Tuesday and faces charges of discrediting the Russian armed forces.
A criminal case has been opened against Oleg Orlov, 69, co-chairman of Memorial Human Rights Defence Center, the group tweeted. He was later released on bail.
Memorial said Orlov's case was opened under allegations he repeatedly discredited the Russian military.
A journalist asked Orlov why he was being detained, to which he responded: "It's related to accusation against me that I support Nazism. An idiotic idea!"
Orlov had reposted an article he wrote for a French publication in November 2022 on his Facebook page. The article was entitled “They wanted fascism. They got it."
Memorial was banned in Russia in late 2021. Last year it shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its “outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power."
The White House rejected China’s claim to hold an impartial position in the war in Ukraine following a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow.
“I don't think you can reasonably look at China as impartial in any way,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman.
Earlier, Xi said that Beijing held an impartial position in the war after lengthy talks with Putin in Moscow.
The United States held a skeptical view of the summit, particularly China’s stated goal of acting as a peacemaker. Kirby said if China wanted to play a constructive role, it would use its influence to urge Russia to end the war.
Biden “wants to keep the lines of communication open with China” and will speak with Xi “at the appropriate time,” Kirby said.
US officials are still digesting the language of the joint statement released following the Xi-Putin meeting, but Kirby said there was little optimism at the summit’s conclusions.
“We haven't seen anything that they've said, they put forward, that gives us hope that this war is going to end anytime soon,” he said.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Presidential Office in Ukraine, said three people were injured in a Russian missile attack on the Odesa region on Tuesday.
Yermak posted on Telegram: "Russians struck Odesa with four missiles. Kh-59, according to preliminary reports."
"Two missiles have been intercepted by air defence. Two more hit the city, unfortunately."
He said a three-story building was damaged on the premises of a monastery.
Yurii Kruk, head of the Odesa district military administration said "the enemy" carried out a rocket strike in the region with SU-35 fighters launching missiles from the sea.
"Some rockets were intercepted thanks to our air defences. However, there was a strike that resulted in partial damage to civilian building. There are wounded. No one was killed, according to preliminary reports," he said.
Unofficial social media reports indicate that the missiles were aimed at an airfield in the region.