Update(1600ET): In a Friday virtual summit, European leaders urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to press Moscow to abandon the invasion of Ukraine, and to end China's tacit support to Russia. According to The Washington Post's commentary on the meeting, the Chinese side seemed less interested in the summit focusing on the war from the start.
“We called on China to end the war in Ukraine," European Council President Charles Michel said in a post-meeting statement to the press. "China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law." The official EU statement said, "As major global powers, the EU and China must work together on stopping Russia's war in Ukraine as soon as possible. We have a common responsibility to maintain peace and stability, and a safe and sustainable world."
A statement published by the Chinese side, however, barely mentioned Russia and instead focused on stressing that China and Europe should cooperate on efforts to "stabilize" the world. Xi Jinping called the Ukraine conflict "deeply regrettable" - but again stopped short of condemning the Russian invasion.
The most important section regarding China in the EU official statement following the Xi summit warned against Beijing helping Russia circumvent Western sanctions. Here's the key text, with emphasis in the original:
The EU called on China to support efforts to bring about an immediate end to the bloodshed in Ukraine, consistent with China’s role in the world as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and its uniquely close relations with Russia.
The EU pointed out that the international sanctions against Russia were imposed with the sole purpose of stopping Russia’s aggression and despite a significant economic impact on the EU and its partners globally. Any circumvention of the effects of the sanctions or any aid provided to Russia would prolong the bloodshed and lead to even greater losses of civilian lives and economic disruption.
The EU will work with its partners to bring Russia and those responsible for Russia’s war against Ukraine and for any violations of international and international humanitarian law to account. Any attempts to circumvent sanctions or to aid Russia by other means must be stopped.
and @vonderleyen says only:— Nick Beake (@Beaking_News) April 1, 2022
"China has an influence on Russia and therefore we expect China to take its responsibility to end this war"
Meanwhile, Chinese PM - on state media in Beijing - says his country will push for peace talks on Ukraine in "its own way".
Already this week, Washington has sought to punish less than a dozen third party entities seeking to help Russia circumvent US sanctions, but is threatening to broaden its net in this regard.
* * *
On Friday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is preparing a response to Ukraine’s prior proposals issued in Istanbul early this week on reaching a ceasefire, as the next round of dialogue is currently underway via remote link.
His statements were generally in a positive direction, saying that in light of Ukraine of late showing "more understanding" as to the Crimea and Donbas issues, Moscow stands ready to engage on Kiev's proposals on neutral and non-nuclear status for the country, according to Bloomberg. However, France and the UK in particular, are urging the Ukrainians against compromise until Russian troops withdraw from the country.
Following days of outside speculation in the West over just how "constructive" toward a potential breakthrough the talks in Istanbul were, France - which has been closely involved in pushing a diplomatic resolution hard, particularly through repeat Macron-Putin phone calls - has weighed in pouring cold water on any optimism.
"I don’t see any signs indicating a real and long-term change in Russia’s position," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French newspaper Thursday. "Even though its troops are moving slower than the Kremlin expected, I don’t currently see any significant retreat or a ceasefire," Le Drian said.
"The so-called regime of silence that Russia announced for a few hours in Mariupol yesterday was clearly not enough," he added, in reference to the announced humanitarian evacuation corridor opened Friday at French and German request. The city has been in Russian hands since early this week, but Ukrainian civilians still remain.
"Around 2,000 civilians are on evacuation buses heading from the coastal city of Berdyansk to the Ukrainian government-held city of Zaporizhzhia, carrying civilians evacuating from the besieged city of Mariupol," CNN reports.
"One of the Biden administration's worst nightmares."— CNN (@CNN) April 1, 2022
CNN global affairs analyst @KimDozier explains how the purported attack on the Russian fuel depot, which the Ukrainian military hasn't commented on, affects the US' role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. pic.twitter.com/mhEdPCmmW5
"The evacuation convoy left Berdyansk for Zaporizhzhia," the city of Mariupol announced on Telegram via its council. "Many private vehicles have joined the 42 buses escorted by Red Cross and SES (State Emergency Service) vehicles. Today we expect the arrival of a record number of Mariupol residents."
Le Drian also acknowledged that Kiev's Western backers (France among them) are pushing hard for Ukraine's negotiators to hold a tough line, even as it's the Ukrainian people under the bombs:
"We have a very clear objective, to not give up anything and to intensify our efforts until a total ceasefire across the whole of Ukraine’s territory and real negotiations," the French top diplomat said.
He further repeated by now familiar calls for Europe to boycott Russian hydrocarbons. "While we don’t all have the same dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, we will have the same interest in exiting them (in Europe)," he said.
Meanwhile on the battlefield, while there are reports of a significant Russian troop drawdown from the Chernihiv region, according to the local governor's words Friday, even as large-scale fighting has reportedly erupted around the capital of Kiev - from which the Russians earlier vowed they would also withdraw.
As to Chernihiv in the north, the governor assessed...
Chaus said it was still too early for Ukrainian forces in the Chernihiv region to let their guard down as Russian troops "are still on our land". Russia said on Tuesday it would scale down operations in the Chernihiv and Kiev regions.
And Bloomberg also observes:
Eleven villages in the southern Kherson region and several others in the Chernihiv region northeast of Kyiv have been returned to Ukrainian control, according to the military’s General Staff. Shelling of towns and villages along the contact line in the east continued overnight, with civilian casualties reported after nine apartment buildings and nine private houses were shelled.
The intensity of shelling declined in Chernihiv and Kharkiv, although a missile hit the center of Kharkiv Thursday night
But this same level of draw down doesn't appear to have yet been initiated near the Ukrainian capital. The city's mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, has described there are "huge" battles underway north and east of Kiev, according to Reuters.
East of #Kyiv, Russian forces aren't withdrawing, they are more clearly being routed, with Ukrainian forces taking Nova Basan, and 10 more villages, likely leaving some Russian units stranded.— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) April 1, 2022
Video from Nova Basan pic.twitter.com/rRVc8cE2KG
"The risk of dying [in Kyiv] is pretty high, and that]s why my advice to anyone who wants to come back is: Please, take a little bit more time," Mayor Klitschko said, warning area residents. For now at least, this appears to confirm the negative outlook for a major breakthrough ceasefire anytime soon offered by France's Le Drian.