By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
The United States on Monday warned China not to help Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Moscow allowed the first convoy to escape besieged Mariupol, home to the worst humanitarian crisis of the conflict.
Since the first week of the invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since World War II, the southeastern port has been surrounded by troops, leaving hundreds of thousands of people to shelter without food or water.
Russia has yet to capture any of the 10 biggest cities in Ukraine since the start of the Feb. 24 attack, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor.
Russia has asked for military and economic aid from Beijing, according to U.S. officials.
Moscow denies that, saying it has sufficient military resources to fulfill all of its aims. China’s foreign ministry labelled the reports on assistance as “disinformation.”
China had signaled willingness to provide aid to Russia, a U.S. official said as national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome.
“We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won’t stand by,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Monday. “We will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses.”
The West is weighing how to deal with any involvement from China, top global exporter and No.1 foreign supplier of goods to Americans. The Ukraine crisis has also raised fears in self-governed Taiwan, which Beijing has vowed to reclaim.
Russian state TV is the main source of news for millions of Russians, and closely follows the Kremlin line, but on Monday a rare anti-war protest occurred in a studio during the main news programme on Channel One. A woman held up a sign in English and Russian: “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.”
As world powers jostle for position, the humanitarian crisis remains bleak.
In Mariupol, local authorities say as many as 2,500 civilians have died so far, a toll that cannot be independently confirmed. Some people were able to finally flee on Monday.
“In the first two hours, 160 cars left,” Andrei Rempel, a representative of the Mariupol city council told Reuters.
“The city continues to be bombed but this road is not being shelled.”
Russia says it does not target civilians.
But Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said Russia had yet again blocked a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city with supplies.
Obtaining safe passage for aid to reach Mariupol and civilians to get out has been Kyiv’s main demand at several rounds of talks. All previous attempts at a local ceasefire in the area have failed.
‘IT’S HARD’ SAYS NEGOTIATOR
Russian and Ukrainian delegations held a fourth round of talks on Monday – by video link rather than in person in neighboring Belarus as in the past – but no new progress was announced.
“Communication is being held yet it’s hard,” tweeted Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak, who had earlier created some hope of headway by saying on Sunday that Russia was beginning to talk “constructively”.
The talks had paused for the day but would resume on Tuesday. Russia “still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against (Ukrainian) peaceful cities is the right strategy”, he said.
Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky posted on social media that Russia was sticking to its key objectives: “We’re aiming to do everything possible for the achievement of the goals set by Vladimir Putin, for Russia’s peaceful future.”
EU member states had agreed on a fourth package of sanctions against Russia, according to France.
Details were not officially disclosed, but diplomatic sources said they would include an import ban on Russian steel and iron, an export ban on luxury goods, and a ban on investment in the energy sector.
Chelsea soccer team owner Roman Abramovich and 14 others would be added to the EU blacklist.
Drone video footage released by Ukrainian forces in Mariupol showed a desolate wasteland of bombed out buildings, many in flames, with smoke pouring into the sky.
Russian forces have been bearing down on Kyiv from the northeast and northwest, but have made little progress so far towards the capital itself, despite heavy fighting that has reduced suburbs on its outskirts to rubble.
In Kyiv itself, an apartment block was hit by a missile overnight, killing at least one person, officials said.
“The staircase was not there anymore, everything was on fire,” apartment resident Maksim Korovii said.
He and his mother ran out to the balcony. “We managed to put on whatever clothes we had at hand and made our way from balcony to balcony and in the end we climbed down by the next building’s entrance.”
In the south, where Russia has made more progress, residents of Odessa, a polyglot Black Sea port of 1 million people, fear their city could be next. They formed a human chain on Monday, singing patriotic songs as they carried sandbags from the beach.
In Donetsk, held since 2014 by Russian-backed separatists, Russia’s defense ministry said at least 20 people had been killed and 28 wounded by what it said was a Ukrainian missile with a cluster charge. It released footage of a missile on a busy street and vehicles destroyed by shrapnel.
Ukraine accused Russia or its allies of carrying out that attack themselves as a pretext: “It is unmistakably a Russian rocket or another munition,” Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said. Reuters could not verify either account.
PREGNANT WOMAN DIES IN MARIUPOL
The Ukrainian foreign ministry said a pregnant woman who was photographed being evacuated wounded from a maternity hospital in Mariupol bombed by Russia last week had since died along with her baby. Reuters was not able to verify this.
Despite video showing at least two pregnant women being carried out of the ruins, Russia has said the hospital was not used at the time and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.
The invasion has sent more than 2.8 million people fleeing across Ukraine’s borders and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged cities.
Global financial markets rallied on Monday on hopes for progress from the talks. Stocks rose while oil prices gave up some of their massive recent gains.
Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of combined oil and gas, and Russia and Ukraine together supply nearly a third of the world’s grain exports, as well as metals and chemicals used worldwide in industry and agriculture.
The war has caused a surge in commodity prices, threatening the global recovery at a time when inflation in the developed world is already at its highest since the 1980s and many poor countries are facing a food crisis.
Russia itself has been cast into economic isolation never before visited on such a big economy.