Kyiv welcomed reported Chinese comments criticizing threats to use nuclear weapons as world leaders gathered in Indonesia to take part in Tuesday’s G20 meeting, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the spotlight.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” the White House said in a readout of a meeting in Indonesia between the two leaders on the eve of the summit.
A readout of the Biden-Xi meeting on China’s foreign ministry website made no use of the word “nuclear” but said: “Conflicts and wars produce no winner… and… confrontation between major countries must be avoided.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly suggested Russia could use nuclear weapons to defend its territorial integrity, interpreted in the West as an implicit threat to use them over lands Moscow claims to have annexed.
Xi and Putin have grown close in recent years, bound by their shared distrust of the West, and China has refrained from publicly criticizing Russia for the invasion or from calling on it to withdraw its troops.
Zelenskiy, who had earlier visited Kherson, the biggest prize his troops have recaptured since the invasion began in February, welcomed Monday’s remarks.
“It is important that the United States and China jointly highlighted that the threats of using nuclear weapons were unacceptable,” Zelenskiy said in a late Monday address. “Everyone understands to whom these words are addressed.”
Zelenskiy is due to address the G20 summit via video link on Tuesday.
In Turkey, meanwhile, U.S. and Russian spy chiefs met in the first known high-level, face-to-face contact of the war between the two countries.
To help avoid conflict escalation, CIA Director William Burns met on Monday with Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin to convey the consequences should Putin use nuclear weapons, a White House spokesperson said.
The Kremlin confirmed a U.S.-Russia meeting had taken place in Ankara but declined to give details.
“The Ukrainian side views these talks with a maximum of realism,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an online video.
Earlier on Monday in Kherson, Zelenskiy shook hands with soldiers and waved to civilians as he was escorted by bodyguards three days after his troops swept into the city.
Kherson city had been the only regional capital captured by Russia since the invasion and Putin had proclaimed it “eternally Russian” six weeks ago.
Ukraine has repeatedly said it is ready for peace, but will not cede territory.
“Ukrainian servicemen accept no talks, no agreements or compromise decisions,” Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny wrote on Telegram late on Monday after a telephone conversation with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
Olga Fedorova, an English teacher in Kherson throughout the occupation, said lack of electricity or mobile internet connection meant many were unaware of events until Ukrainian troops raised their flag in the main square on Nov. 11.
“We couldn’t believe, we still can’t believe that our Ukrainian army is here,” she said. “We have been waiting for them all this time, all this eight and a half months.”
Zelenskiy said Ukraine had gathered evidence of at least 400 war crimes committed by Russian troops during their occupation of the area, including killings and abductions.
Russia denies its troops target civilians or have committed atrocities. Mass burial sites have been found in other parts previously occupied by Russian troops, including some with civilian bodies showing signs of torture.
Residents in and around Kherson interviewed by Reuters since Friday have described killings and abductions.
Reuters reported one account of a neighbour shot dead and three accounts of people carried off by troops in the village of Blahodatne north of Kherson.
It was not possible to verify the accounts independently.
The United Nations General Assembly on Monday voted to approve a resolution recognising that Russia must be responsible for making reparations to Ukraine, in a non-binding move backed by 94 of its 193 members.
To the north and east of Ukraine, there were reports of fierce clashes and artillery bombardments along the front lines that stretch more than 1,000 km (620 miles).
“The enemy is attempting to hold temporarily occupied territory and is continuing to equip areas on the east bank of the Dnipro River,” Ukraine’s armed forces’ general staff said in a Facebook post on Monday evening.
“It is maintaining its offensive actions near Bakhmut and Avdiivka,” the statement added, referring to areas in eastern Donetsk region where the heaviest fighting has been taking place.
Russia’s defence ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying its forces had taken the village of Pavlivka in Donetsk.
Neither sides’ accounts could be independently confirmed.
Russia says it is waging a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe the Kremlin’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.