Putin holds talks with Xi as Ukraine conflict looms over relations

Kyiv's forces repel Russian drones fired at capital overnight

Russia's President Vladimir Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping that ties between the countries are 'the best in history'. AFP
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Russia's President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes for a Chinese state visit in the spring, in an end-of-year video call with China's President Xi Jinping on Friday.

This comes as ties between the countries are challenged by the political and economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian leader told Mr Xi that Russia-China relations are the “best in history” and a global “stabilising factor” amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Mr Putin called for greater military co-operation between the countries.

“Amid unprecedented pressure and provocations from the West we are standing up for our own fundamental views,” Mr Putin told Mr Xi.

“We are expecting you, dear Mr Chairman, dear friend, we are expecting you next spring on a state visit to Moscow.”

He said the visit would “demonstrate to the world the closeness of Russian-Chinese relations”.

China stood ready to expand the “strategic partnership”, according to a transcript of the call.

The Chinese leader thanked Mr Putin for sending a message of congratulations after a congress of China’s ruling Communist Party in October that handed him a precedent-defying third term in power.

Russia has become one of China's leading suppliers of oil and gas, with 13.8 billion cubic metres of gas sent through the Power of Siberia pipeline in the first 11 months of 2022. Oil exports have boomed as well.

“According to the results of this year, Russia has become one of the leaders in oil exports to China,” Mr Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold an end-of-year video call. AFP

The video call came as the Ukrainian army repelled 16 kamikaze drones in an overnight attack by Russia — a day after Moscow's largest aerial assault since the start of the invasion.

The invading forces targeted several locations, including the capital Kyiv, with Iranian-made drones, said Ukrainian officials.

The Ukrainian armed forces said all drones were destroyed by air defence systems.

“On the night of December 29-30, the enemy attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made kamikaze drones,” Ukraine's Air Force said.

Residents of Kyiv were woken by sirens wailing at 2am, and sought shelter in bunkers or underground locations. The air raid alert last for just over two hours.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko later said the capital was attacked by seven drones ― two of which were shot down “on approach” and five over the city.

He said there were no casualties but falling debris damaged windows in two buildings in a south-west neighbourhood.

Moscow’s use of drones in Ukraine has increased in recent months as its ground forces struggle to capture new territory.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyaklast week called for the obliteration of Iranian factories manufacturing killer drones, saying the regime “blatantly humiliates the institution of international sanctions”.

Kyiv has accused Tehran of supplying 1,700 Shahed-136 loitering munitions to Moscow, which it claims have been used to hit targets in Ukraine.

Iran denies the allegations.

The drone attacks on Ukraine in the early hours of Friday came a day after Russia launched its biggest aerial assault since invading Ukraine in February.

Targets included Kyiv, the second city Kharkiv in the east and Lviv, which lies in the west of the country close to the Polish border.

The Ukrainian armed forces said 69 missiles were launched, 54 of which were shot down. Earlier, government officials had estimated that 120 missiles had been launched.

Most regions were left without power as a result of the attacks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Meanwhile, Belarus has summoned the Ukrainian ambassador, after its army shot down a Ukrainian air defence missile in Belarusian territory.

Missile debris scattered in a field, apparently close to the border, was shown on Belarusian state television.

President Alexander Lukashenko’s government is demanding that Kyiv carry out a full investigation into how the S-300 missile entered its airspace.

The incident was “the result of air defence”, according to a spokesman for the Ukrainian military.

Anatoly Glaz, spokesman for the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called it a “very serious incident”.

“Belarus takes this issue very earnestly,” he said. “In this regard, ambassador of Ukraine Igor Kizim has been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus today to receive a strong demarche.

“We demanded that Ukraine conduct a thorough investigation into all the circumstances of this missile launch, hold those responsible to account and take comprehensive measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future, as they can lead to catastrophic consequences for everyone.”

The incident is the first of its kind since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Mr Putin has relied on President Lukashenko, one of his key allies, for support and has used Belarus as a training ground for troops.

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Updated: December 30, 2022, 12:34 PM