Ukraine war live updates: Putin pitches the West as mutual enemy of Russia and China ahead of Xi meeting; Blinken rocks out in Kyiv

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has pitched the West and what he called “U.S.-led Western elites” as a mutual enemy of Russia and China, ahead of a two-day visit to Beijing where he will meet President Xi Jinping.

The visit on May 16-17 is Putin’s first trip abroad after being re-elected in March as Russia’s president for the fifth time, taking his presidency up to 2030. Russia has few powerful friends left on the global stage after it invaded Ukraine in 2022, but it can still count on Beijing, which has consistently refused to condemn the invasion.

Putin and Xi have deepened Sino-Russian ties over recent decades and have held more than 40 meetings with each other since 2010.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 20, 2023. Xi said he’s invited Putin to visit China this year, Russian news agencies reported Tuesday.

Sergei Karpukhin | Sputnik | via Reuters

Ahead of his latest trip, Putin emphasized Russia and China’s closeness and mutual respect as opposed to the West, telling Chinese state-media agency Xinhua that “U.S.-led Western elites refuse to respect civilizational and cultural diversity and reject traditional values ​​that have been formed over centuries.”

“In an attempt to maintain their global dominance, they arrogated to themselves the right to tell other nations with whom they can be friends and cooperate, and with whom they cannot … Naturally, neither Russia nor its partners are happy with this state of affairs,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview published on the Kremlin’s website.

The interview covered Russia and China’s economic and trade links, geopolitics and the war in Ukraine. Putin said he supported China’s 12-point peace plan and said Russia was open to holding talks to resolve the conflict. Analysts said China’s plan lacked substance while Ukraine has said it will not hold talks with Russia while Russian troops are on its territory.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) performs “Rockin’ in the Free World” with members of The 1999 band at the Barman Dictat bar in Kyiv on May 14, 2024. The United States will back Ukraine until the country’s security is “guaranteed,” Blinken said in a speech in Kyiv on May 14, 2024. 

Brendan Smialowski | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended a surprise trip to Kyiv on Tuesday by joining a band onstage in a bar to perform a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Blinken had arrived in Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday ahead of a meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials at which he pledged continuing U.S. support for Ukraine as a new Russian offensive rages in the northeast of the country.

After sharing pizzas with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at lunch, Blinken was a surprise act at the Barman Dictat cocktail bar in Kyiv, where he joined members of The 1999 band onstage.

The band’s singer told the crowd he had a “secret guest” for them as he invited “the biggest friend of Ukraine, Antony Blinken” onstage, to cheers from the crowd.

Electric guitar in hand, Blinken told the audience, “listen, I know this is a really, really difficult time. Your soldiers, your citizens, particularly in the northeast in Kharkiv, are suffering tremendously. But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you,” he said.

“They’re fighting not just for a free Ukraine but for the free world, and the free world is with you too,” he added.

As the band prepared to start playing, Blinken was less sure of his skills, telling the crowd, “I don’t know if we can pull this off.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in China this week is the latest sign of the deepening strategic ties between both sides.   

Putin will make a two-day state visit to China from Thursday at the invitation of Xi, it was announced on Tuesday.

It comes amid the Kremlin’s growing reliance on China for trade and political backing as it seeks to strengthen its “no limits” partnership with Beijing on various fronts.

“It’s pretty clear that for these last two years, Putin has wanted three things from China,” Max Hess, fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday.

He wants a “deal” for the Power of Siberia 2 natural gas pipeline and seeks more Chinese support for the war in Ukraine, especially in terms of hardware, he added. Putin also wants access to Chinese financial markets and to use the “Chinese currency to further Russia’s trade,” Hess said.

“We’ve really seen remarkably little progress on all of those things,” he added. “So, it’s really Putin going to China seeing what he can get.”

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— Sumathi Bala

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will discuss the war in Ukraine, developments in the Middle East and international cooperation with organisations including the United Nations, among other topics, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said Tuesday.

“The topic of connecting integration processes within the EurAsEC and the Chinese “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the situation around Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East, Central and North-East Asia will be considered,” Ushakov was cited as saying by Russian state media agency RIA Novosti in Google-translated comments.

Ushakov said it was important for the relationship between China and Russia to be resistant to external pressures, and that Russia appreciated China’s “balanced position” on the conflict in Ukraine.

Putin is set to travel to China this week to meet with several senior Chinese politicians, including Xi.

“The leaders will have a one-on-one conversation, they will walk in the park next to the palace, drink tea, obviously. And then informal negotiations will take place during an informal dinner with the participation of some members of the delegations from both sides,” Ushakov said.

He added that a visit from Chinese government officials to Russia was also being planned for this year.

— Sophie Kiderlin

A strike on Ukraine’s Kharkiv on Tuesday hit a high-rise residential building in the city center and injured at least nine people, its mayor Ihor Terekhov said in Google-translated Telegram posts on Tuesday.

No fire broke out as a result of the strike, but a search of all apartments in the building for victims was underway, he added.

It comes after several strikes hit Kharkiv earlier in the day, according to Terekhov. Several residential buildings, garages, a school and cars were damaged by the attacks, he said.

CNBC could not independently verify developments on the ground.

Fighting has intensified in the Kharkiv region in recent days as Russia has launched a fresh offensive in the area. Russia has claimed that it has made gains near Kharkiv since the latest offensive began.

— Sophie Kiderlin

France is set to provide military support to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, the French government said Tuesday, according to a Google-translated statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the phone earlier in the day about developments on the ground, the statement said.

“The President of the Republic reiterated France’s determination to provide all the necessary support, over the long term and with all of its partners, to defeat Russia’s war of aggression. He was also able to detail the deliveries for the coming days and weeks in support of the Ukrainian military effort,” it said.

In a post on social media platform X, Zelenskyy said that he had also discussed the upcoming peace summit with Macron.

“I appreciate France’s important role in implementing the Peace Formula, particularly the nuclear safety point,” he said. “We discussed the importance of encouraging countries from the Global South to attend the summit and coordinated positions on this matter.”

— Sophie Kiderlin

Poland will allocate an additional 100 million zlotys ($25.30 million) to boost its intelligence services, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday, as he warned of a rising threat from Russia.

Poland says its place as a distribution hub for supplies to Ukraine has made it a key target for Moscow’s intelligence services, fears that were exacerbated last week when a judge who had access to military secrets defected to Russian ally Belarus.

“I decided to allocate 100 million zlotys from my own reserve, the reserve of the prime minister, to strengthen the internal security and intelligence agencies,” Tusk told a news conference.

He said that Russian efforts to destabilise European countries, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, were set to intensify in the run-up to European elections in June.

“We will have to invest more resources, time, more actions when it comes to our special services,” he said.

— Reuters

A Russian official claimed Tuesday that Russian forces have control over the western and northern parts of the town of Volchansk in Ukraine’s northeast region, with street battles now taking place there.

Vitaly Ganchev, the head of the Russia-backed civil-military administration in the area, told Russia’s Channel One that Russian forces were closing in on the town, a hot spot in the war since Russia launched a new offensive to seize the border region.

“While the Ukrainian armed formations are still resisting both in the city itself and on the approaches to it … at the same time, the western and northern parts of Volchansk are already controlled by Russian troops, our guys are now continuing to move into area of the meat processing plant and so on,” he said, according to comments reported by state news agency Tass.

“Convenient positions are being taken for further advancement in the city and the suburbs around Volchansk,” he added.

Police officer Vladyslav once again was attacked as he drove his car to Vovchansk to evacuate locals from the outer streets of the city on May 13, 2024 in Vovchansk Kharkiv Region, Ukraine. 

Libkos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine’s military appeared to contradict the summary, however, stating that the situation in Vovchansk was “under control” while conceding that it had pulled back troops to new positions near the village of Lukyantsi.

“Due to the intense fire influence of the enemy, namely air strikes … on our units, to save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers, a change of positions was carried out in the area of the settlement Lukyantsi. The fighting is going on,” the General Staff said in an update on Facebook. CNBC was unable to verify either battlefield report.

— Holly Ellyatt

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