Moscow has warned that it will view the United States as a party to the war in Ukraine if it supplies Kyiv with longer-range missiles, as Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed the conflict with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
They met in Uzbekistan as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy hosted European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, and Russia fired more missiles at a dam in the industrial city of Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskiy’s birthplace in central Ukraine.
Fighting continued in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine and the Donbas area of the east, and Ukrainian forces consolidated recent gains in the northeastern Kharkiv province, where they have retaken hundreds of settlements in a major counterattack this month.
Kyiv is believed to have asked Washington to supply missiles with a 300km range for the US-made Himars multiple rocket systems, powerful and accurate weapons that Ukraine’s military has used — so far with a shorter range — to strike Russian arms and fuel depots, command posts and supply routes deep inside occupied territory.
“Should Washington decide to supply longer-range missiles to Kiev, it will cross a red line and become a direct party to the conflict. Under such a scenario, we will be forced to respond appropriately,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.
Moscow has made repeated threats over the West’s provision of weapons and other aid to Kyiv, and Russian officials and state media increasingly claim that their country’s military is effectively fighting Nato on Ukrainian soil, citing this as the reason for its struggles.
Russian forces abandoned ranks of armoured vehicles and big ammunition stocks in their chaotic retreat from Kharkiv this month, even as Moscow claimed their withdrawal was part of a planned redeployment to the neighbouring Donetsk region.
Leonid Pasechnik, a Moscow-appointed militia leader in occupied Luhansk region, admitted on Thursday that Ukrainian troops taking control of Kharkiv region were now “practically on the frontier” of what Russia calls the “Luhansk People’s Republic”.
“Indeed, the situation is very tense. The enemy attempted attacks along the entire front. I want to assure you that there is no reason to panic. The enemy achieved certai n successes ... but there is no reason to panic,” he said.
At their first in-person meeting since he launched his full invasion of Ukraine in February, Mr Putin told Mr Xi that “we highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis” and “understand your questions and concern about this.”
Russia is seeking to deepen ties with China to offset heavy western economic sanctions, and to forge an alliance with Beijing against what Mr Putin describes as US efforts to dominate global affairs and create a “unipolar world”.
Chinese state media quoted Mr Xi as saying Beijing was “ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests” and to “expand pragmatic co-operation, safeguard security and the interests of the region”.
In Kyiv, Ms von der Leyen hailed Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression and vowed that “you have your European friends by your side for as long as it takes, and we are friends forever”.
She added: “To all member states: It’s absolutely vital and necessary to support Ukraine with the military equipment they need to defend themselves. They have proven that they are able to do that if they are well-equipped.” s
A Russian missile hit an industrial site in Kryvyi Rih on Thursday, hours after several rockets struck a dam near the city, causing fears of flooding and forcing some residents to evacuate. Another missile hit the same dam on Thursday evening, local officials reported.