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29th Feb 2024

China backs shutting Ukraine out of Nato

  • Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi spoke by video-link (Photo: nato.int)
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China on Saturday supported shutting the door on Nato membership for Ukraine as that country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a strong appeal to keep it open, amid the threat of an attack by Russia.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Saturday (19 February) that the growth of Nato had helped to inflame the crisis in what amounted to a full-throated endorsement of Kremlin priorities.

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  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz in Munich on Saturday (Photo: securityconference.org)

"If there's a persistent eastern expansion [of Nato], will that truly guarantee peace in Europe?" he asked, speaking by video-link from Beijing.

Europeans needed to give that question "serious consideration," he said.

Wang then endorsed the Russian idea that Ukraine should stay out of the Western military bloc.

"Ukraine should be a bridge linking the west and the east," he said. It "shouldn't be the front-line in a competition between great powers" and the "reasonable concerns of Russia should also be respected," he said.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, voiced concerns that the chances of Nato membership for his country may already have been diminished because of the pressure from Russia.

"​​We are told that the doors of Nato are open, but for the moment we are told that it is not possible," Zelensky told the Munich conference.

But "are these doors really open?" he asked.

"You have an open door but strangers do not seem to be allowed," said Zelensky.

Zelensky went on to suggest that the security of his country should be a more important consideration for Nato allies than sanctions, since they would only go into force against Russia after a military strike on Ukraine.

"We do not need your sanctions after our country has been bombarded and we have lost our borders," Zelensky warned.

For his part, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg baulked at the idea that Russia was making reasonable demands.

"Putting forward demands they know we can't meet, then threatening military-technological consequences if we don't meet them — this is a step change," Stoltenberg told the Munich conference.

Russia was absent from Munich this year, even though it normally sends its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Russia has demanded that Nato bar potential new members, including Finland or Sweden, and withdraw troops from existing ones in eastern Europe.

Over recent days the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine has intensified.

It emerged Saturday that two Ukrainian soldiers died from shrapnel wounds in east Ukraine after a shelling attack by Russia-controlled separatists.

Russia has evacuated people from its occupied territories in east Ukraine, where there has been heavy artillery fire on the contact line.

Russia also has moved field hospitals, blood supplies, and logistics equipment to the Ukrainian border, according to the US and media reports.

In addition, the Russians claimed on Saturday that a Ukrainian shell had landed on its territory, prompting concerns such a report could be a pretext for war.

US president Joe Biden said earlier in the weekend that Putin had made a final decision to invade, in the coming days.

The new German leader, Olaf Scholz, also addressing the Munich conference, said Ukraine's Nato membership was not on the table in the foreseeable future.

"We are facing the threat of a conflict in Europe about a question that isn't even on the agenda," he said.

He also described Russian claims that Ukraine was guilty of "genocide" against its own people as "ridiculous."

Germany told its citizens to leave Ukraine "urgently" on Saturday while German airline Lufthansa suspended flights to Kyiv and Odessa.

Kamala Harris, the US vice-president, underlined that the US still was "open to a diplomatic solution".

Her administration and the European Union had prepared a coordinated set of sanctions to impose on Russia, were it to invade Ukraine.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the Munich conference that the bloc would be doing "everything" it could do to reduce dependency on Russian gas in the long term.

"A strong EU cannot be reliant on an energy supplier that threatens to start a war on the European continent," von der Leyen said.

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