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West ramps up pressure on Russia; China, India non-committal

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
President Biden (L) talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron as they arrive at NATO headquarters in Brussels for an emergency meeting on Russia and Ukraine on Thursday.

The US and its Western allies have stepped up pressure on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine, agreeing to strengthen their forces in eastern Europe, increase military aid to Kiev and tighten their sanctions on Moscow.

Western leaders made the decisions at an unprecedented triple summit of NATO, the G7 and the European Union in Brussels on Thursday, as Russia's offensive against its neighbor enters its second month.

"We agreed to strengthen our deterrence and defense for the longer-term. We also agreed to give further support to Ukraine and to continue to impose costs on Russia," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

He said NATO has already rushed tens of thousands of extra troops to its eastern flank, and that four new combat units will be set up in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

Stoltenberg warned Russia against mounting what he called any chemical attack in Ukraine, saying the alliance has activated "chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements" for allied forces in eastern Europe.

NATO, however, rejected repeated pleas by Kiev to impose a no-fly zone over the country, reiterating that it would not send forces into Ukraine either.

Instead, it pledged to keep supplying Kiev with weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who joined the summit through a video call complained the West had not provided tanks or modern anti-missile systems, calling on the Western alliance's leaders to send weapons "without restrictions".

"The alliance can still prevent the deaths of Ukrainians from Russian strikes, from Russian occupation, by giving us all the weapons we need," he said.

More sanctions 

The United States and Britain expanded their sanctions blacklists.

Britain imposed sanctions on another wave of Russia's lenders including Gazprombank and Alfa Bank, while Washington imposed fresh sanctions on dozens of Russian defense companies, hundreds of members of its parliament and the chief executive of the country's largest bank.

Washington also outlined a push by the G7 to freeze Russia out of international organizations and to cut it off from its gold reserves.

The EU is also due to announce steps to purportedly wean itself off Russian energy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24.

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that Western decisions to arm Ukraine had encouraged Kiev to use force against the pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine and were now reaping a terrible harvest.

The ministry said NATO's pledge to maintain its support for the "Kiev regime" showed that it wanted the conflict in Ukraine to continue, the RIA news agency reported. 

China blasts NATO's 'disinformation'

China accused the NATO chief of "spreading disinformation" with claims that Beijing has backed Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Stoltenberg accused China of giving political backing to Russia and warned Beijing against providing material support to Moscow's "war effort."

"China has provided Russia with political support, including by spreading blatant lies and misinformation, and allies are concerned that China could provide material support for the Russian invasion," he said ahead of the urgent NATO summit.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing on Thursday that "accusing China of spreading false information about Ukraine is itself spreading disinformation".

"China's position is consistent with the wishes of most countries... any unwarranted accusations and suspicions against China will be defeated," he said.

"We have always maintained that Ukraine should become a bridge between the East and West, rather than be in the frontline in a game between great powers."

India: US, Russia ties 'stand on their own merit'  

India also said it has friendly relations with both the United States and Russia that stand on their own merit.

Junior foreign minister Meenakashi Lekhi made the remark in response to a query whether the Ukraine crisis had affected ties.

"India has called for immediate cessation of hostilities and return to the path of diplomacy and dialogue with respect to the conflict in Ukraine," Lekhi told parliament.

"India has close and friendly relations with both the US and Russia," she added. "They stand on their own merit."

India is the only major country close to the United States that has not condemned Russia's offensive or imposed any sanctions on it so far.

This week, US President Joe Biden said India was the only one of the Quad group of nations that was "somewhat shaky" in acting against Russia.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, is an informal strategic forum involving the United States, Japan, Australia, and India aimed at containing China's rise.

On Thursday, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in India for talks with his Indian counterpart, the highest-level visit by a Chinese official to the country since border clashes soured relations two years ago.


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