Ukraine called on China on March 19 to join the West in condemning “Russian barbarism”, as Moscow claimed it had struck a Ukrainian arms depot with hypersonic missiles in what would be the first use in combat of the next-generation weapons.
That attack, not far from the country’s western Romanian border, came as Russia said its troops had broken through Ukrainian defences to enter the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, a scene of mounting desperation.
With the “special military operation” in its fourth week, Kyiv’s embattled leader Volodymyr Zelensky pressed for “meaningful” talks to halt fighting that has forced at least 3.3 million Ukrainians to flee their country.
The plea for China to condemn the offensive came from a top Zelensky adviser, Mikhailo Podolyak.
China could play an important role in global security, he said on Twitter, “if it makes a right decision to support the civilised countries’ coalition and condemn Russian barbarism.”
While Western countries have shown unity, China has so far refused to condemn the military offensive.
Russia’s claim on March 19 to have unleashed its new hypersonic Kinzhal missile would mark a dramatic new escalation of its campaign to force Ukraine to abandon hopes of closer ties with the West.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuri Ignat said the arms depot in the western village of Deliatyn had indeed been hit but “we have no information of the type of missile”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unveiled the Kinzhal missile in 2018, has termed it “an ideal weapon” that flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it extremely difficult for missile defences to intercept.
In another setback, Ukraine officials admitted they had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of Azov, though Russia has effectively controlled the coastline for weeks after surrounding Mariupol.
Zelensky on March 19 again appealed for peace, urging Russia to accept “meaningful” talks in his latest video posted on social media.
“This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine,” he said.
“Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that several generations will not recover.”
But as in previous negotiations there appeared to be little progress in reaching a ceasefire.
Russia carried out air raids on March 19 on the southern city of Mykolaiv in quick succession, Vitaly Kim, head of the regional administration, said, a day after a deadly strike on a military barracks there.
Less than 100km to the southeast, Ukraine claimed that a Russian general had been killed by strikes on an airfield outside Kherson, just north of Crimea. Ukraine said he was the fifth top-ranking officer killed since the offensive began on February 24.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss said on March 19 that Moscow was using talks as a “smokescreen” as it carried out “appalling atrocities”.
Fierce resistance has managed to stall Russian forces outside Kyiv and several other cities in the east, making them vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks against supply lines.