Russia says Ukraine peace call with China won’t change its aims

The Kremlin has said it welcomes anything that could bring the end of the Ukraine conflict closer, following a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But it said it still needed to achieve the aims of what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The Chinese and Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday spoke for the first time since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine in February last year, fulfilling a long-standing goal of Kyiv, which had publicly sought such talks for months.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was familiar with the details of what the two leaders had discussed and said their stances on the conflict were well known.

“We are ready to welcome anything that could hasten the end of the conflict in Ukraine and Russia achieving all the goals it has set itself,” Mr Peskov said of their phone call.

“As for the fact that they communicated – that is a sovereign matter for each of these countries and a question of their bilateral dialogue.”

Asked if Russia and China had discussed restoring Ukraine to its 1991 borders during a recent visit to Moscow by the Chinese leader, Mr Peskov said: “There was no discussion of that.”

Invitation to Pope

The news comes as Ukraine’s prime minister says he has invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn country and asked for help in repatriating thousands of children taken to Russia or Russian-occupied land since Moscow’s invasion.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in Rome he had held talks at the Vatican and discussed Kyiv’s peace formula to end Russia’s 14-month-old war in Ukraine.

“I asked his holiness for help in returning home Ukrainian children who are being held, arrested, deported to Russia in a criminal way,” he said.

Kyiv estimates almost 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since Moscow invaded in February last year, in what it condemns as illegal deportations.

Moscow, which controls large parts of Ukraine’s east and south, denies abducting children and says they have been transported away for their own safety.

“We discussed the [Ukrainian] peace formula, and a potential path and assistance from his holiness and the Vatican to achieve all the steps of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace formula,” Mr Shmyhal said.

Pope Francis, 86, has said previously he wants to visit Kyiv and also Moscow on a peace mission.

Tens of thousands have been killed, millions uprooted and whole cities have been flattened during the war in Ukraine.

Russia has been conducting a major offensive in the east of Ukraine for months but has failed to make major territorial advances.

Ukraine plans to launch a counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months.

Kyiv wants all its territory back.

Mr Xi, who has close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, spoke by phone with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday.

Mr Shmyhal said the phone call had been very productive and could prove a very positive beginning for future relations.

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