1 week ago

Turkey Moves to Ratify Finland’s NATO Membership

Anushka Patil

Updated 

March 17, 2023, 12:29 p.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 12:29 p.m. ET

The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for war crimes, a move that Ukrainian officials and human-rights groups hailed as an important step in holding Moscow to account for abuses during its yearlong war.

The court issued the warrant just days before Mr. Putin is scheduled to receive China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, in Russia. There was no immediate comment from Beijing on the arrest warrant.

The likelihood of a trial while Mr. Putin remains in power appears slim, because the court cannot try defendants in absentia and Russia has said it will not surrender its own officials. Still, the warrant deepens Mr. Putin’s isolation from the West and could limit his travel overseas.

Here are other developments:

  • Mr. Putin will receive China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for a state visit to Russia starting on Monday. While Beijing said Mr. Xi’s visit would seek to promote peace efforts between Russia and Ukraine, U.S. officials have questioned whether the Chinese leader can play a mediating role given his nation’s close partnership with Russia.

  • Turkey announced that it would move to ratify Finland’s application to join NATO, clearing a significant hurdle for the Nordic nation’s bid to join the alliance but leaving neighboring Sweden on the sidelines for now.

  • The government of Slovakia said that it would send 13 Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine, a day after a similar announcement by Poland’s president, marking a possibly significant shift from NATO allies in increasing arms supplies for Kyiv. But most of Slovakia’s MIG-29 warplanes are not in working order so their delivery to Ukraine, likely to provide spare parts for Ukraine’s own fleet of Soviet-era jets, will not change the balance of force on the battlefield.

Anushka Patil

Updated 

March 17, 2023, 12:29 p.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 12:29 p.m. ET

The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for war crimes, a move that Ukrainian officials and human-rights groups hailed as an important step in holding Moscow to account for abuses during its yearlong war.

The court issued the warrant just days before Mr. Putin is scheduled to receive China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, in Russia. There was no immediate comment from Beijing on the arrest warrant.

The likelihood of a trial while Mr. Putin remains in power appears slim, because the court cannot try defendants in absentia and Russia has said it will not surrender its own officials. Still, the warrant deepens Mr. Putin’s isolation from the West and could limit his travel overseas.

Here are other developments:

  • Mr. Putin will receive China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for a state visit to Russia starting on Monday. While Beijing said Mr. Xi’s visit would seek to promote peace efforts between Russia and Ukraine, U.S. officials have questioned whether the Chinese leader can play a mediating role given his nation’s close partnership with Russia.

  • Turkey announced that it would move to ratify Finland’s application to join NATO, clearing a significant hurdle for the Nordic nation’s bid to join the alliance but leaving neighboring Sweden on the sidelines for now.

  • The government of Slovakia said that it would send 13 Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine, a day after a similar announcement by Poland’s president, marking a possibly significant shift from NATO allies in increasing arms supplies for Kyiv. But most of Slovakia’s MIG-29 warplanes are not in working order so their delivery to Ukraine, likely to provide spare parts for Ukraine’s own fleet of Soviet-era jets, will not change the balance of force on the battlefield.

March 17, 2023, 11:34 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 11:34 a.m. ET

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The International Criminal Court on Friday issued a war crimes arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin.Credit...Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik, via Associated Press

The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for war crimes, saying that he bore individual criminal responsibility for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children since Russia’s invasion last year.

Human rights groups hailed the warrant as an important step toward ending impunity for Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The likelihood of a trial while Mr. Putin remains in power appears slim, because the court cannot try defendants in absentia and Russia has said it will not surrender its own officials.

Still, the warrant deepens Mr. Putin’s isolation in the West and could limit his movements overseas.

The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights. She has been the public face of a Kremlin-sponsored program in which Ukrainian children and teenagers have been taken to Russia.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed the warrants, noting that it is not a party to the court.

The court said in a statement “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

The I.C.C. does not recognize immunity for heads of state in cases involving war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

The Kremlin has denied accusations of war crimes, but has not been secretive about the transfers of Ukrainian children to Russia, depicting them as adoptions of abandoned children and promoting the program as a patriotic and humanitarian effort.

“This is a big day for the many victims of crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine since 2014,” said Balkees Jarrah, the associate director for international justice at Human Rights Watch. “With these arrest warrants, the I.C.C. has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long.”

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said the announcement had “no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view.”

“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” she said. “Russia is not cooperating with this body,” calling any efforts by the I.C.C. to make arrests “legally null and void for us.”

Ukrainian officials said the decision in effect branded Russia a criminal government and made the world a much smaller place for Mr. Putin. If the Russian leader travels to a state that is party to the I.C.C., that country must arrest him, according to its obligations under international law.

“This is just the beginning,” Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

But the court’s limitations are well known — although it can indict sitting heads of state, it has no power to arrest them or bring them to trial, instead relying on other leaders and governments to act as its sheriffs around the world. This has been most prominently illustrated by the case of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the court but has been not been arrested in other countries where he has traveled.

A New York Times investigation published in October identified several Ukrainian children who had been taken away under Russia’s systematic resettlement efforts. They described a wrenching process of coercion, deception and force, and upon arrival in Russia or Russian-occupied territories, are often placed in homes to become Russian citizens and subjected to re-education efforts. Russia has defended the transfers on humanitarian grounds.

On Thursday, a United Nations commission of inquiry said that Russia’s transfer of children and other civilians from Ukraine to Russia may amount to a war crime, observing that none of the cases they investigated were justified under international law. Ukraine has reported the transfer of 16,221 children to Russia, but the commission said it had not been able to verify the number.

The I.C.C.’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, has said the illegal transfers of children were a priority for his investigators. “Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war,” he said after visiting a children’s home in southern Ukraine this month that he said had been emptied as a result of alleged deportations.

Valerie Hopkins and Marc Santora contributed reporting.

Michael D. Shear

March 17, 2023, 11:31 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 11:31 a.m. ET

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John F. Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, at the White House. Credit...Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The United States on Friday said it was opposed to a Chinese proposal for an immediate cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine because it would cement the position of the troops of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“A cease-fire now is, again, effectively the ratification of Russian conquest,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters, responding to an expected meeting next week between Mr. Putin and Xi Jinping, China’s top leader.

“It would, in effect, recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor’s territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory,” Mr. Kirby said.

The call for a cease-fire is part of a multipart peace proposal put forward by Mr. Xi, who heads to Russia for the meeting next week. The United States has long encouraged the Chinese government to play a constructive role in helping to end the war in Ukraine.

But Mr. Kirby expressed doubt that Mr. Xi’s meeting next week in Russia represents a genuine effort at peacemaking. He repeated that American officials were concerned that China is seriously considering an effort to directly provide lethal weapons to Russia for use in the war.

And he said that any meaningful meeting about peace would have to include President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as well.

“We also hope that President Xi will reach out to President Zelensky directly because we continue to believe that it’s very important that he hears from the Ukrainian side as well,” Mr. Kirby added. “And not just from Mr. Putin and not just from a Russian perspective.”

Mr. Kirby said he would not speak for Mr. Zelensky, who has in the past rejected the idea of an immediate cease-fire for similar reasons. But he made clear that the United States would counsel the leader of Ukraine to be wary of signing on to one at this point in the conflict.

“We certainly don’t support calls for a cease-fire that would be called for by the P.R.C. and a meeting in Moscow that would simply benefit Russia,” Mr. Kirby said, using the acronym for the Chinese government.

Marc Santora

March 17, 2023, 8:44 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 8:44 a.m. ET

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F-16 fighter jets taking part in a NATO exercise in Poland, in October 2022.Credit...Radoslaw Jozwiak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s fighter pilots have helped to keep Russia from controlling the skies above the battlefield in the yearlong war. But the fact remains that Russia’s air force dwarfs Ukraine’s and its pilots have far superior technology.

The addition of more than a dozen Soviet-designed MIG fighter jets from Poland and Slovakia will certainly help Ukraine, which has seen dozens of aircraft shot down or worn out after more than a year of combat. But Ukrainian officials and military analysts do not expect the MIGs pledged so far to fundamentally alter the battle in the skies.

Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, said new MIGs would not “radically change” the situation on the front lines. Most of Slovakia’s MIG-29 warplanes are not working, so they are likely to be used mainly for spare parts.

“To some extent, this will increase our combat capabilities,” he said in an appearance on Ukrainian national television Friday morning. “But one should not forget that these are still Soviet and not modern Western aircraft.”

Ukraine primarily uses its limited number of fighter jets to provide cover for bombers and assault aircraft striking Russian positions, Mr. Ihnat said in a recent interview with Channel 24, a Ukrainian news outlet.

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A MIG-29 fighter jet in Slovakia.Credit...Jaroslav Novak/TASR Slovakia, via Associated Press

Ukrainian engineers have also figured out how to attach Western-made anti-radar missiles to its existing fleet of MIGs, allowing Kyiv to better target Russian radar and air-defense systems. The High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles, known as HARMs, pose a threat to Russian air defense operators, in many cases forcing them to turn off their radar and lie low while Ukrainian MIGs are in the air — thus creating more freedom of movement for other Ukrainian aircraft.

But these missions are still fraught with danger for Ukrainian pilots.

“To successfully complete the task, they must go deep into the enemy’s defenses,” Mr. Ihnat said. “It is very dangerous to fly deep into the enemy’s defenses and you need to stick closer to the ground. And if you don’t do this, you will easily become prey.”

Ukraine has lost 61 planes since the war began, including 18 MIG-29s, according to the military analysis site Oryx, which only counts losses that it has visually confirmed. Over the same period, Russia has lost 79 aircraft, according to the group, whose analysts believe the real numbers for both sides are most likely far greater.

Mr. Ihnat said that Moscow’s fleet of attack aircraft is five times larger than Ukraine’s, and “much more technological.”

He and other Ukrainian officials have said that the country should focus on acquiring one type of advanced fighter, and that the F-16 remained the best option. Many nations employ the F-16, meaning the United States would not have to supply them directly, although it does need to approve any transfers to Ukraine from other countries. The Biden administration has declined to send F-16s but has not ruled out deciding later to provide them or allowing another country to do so.

The Ukrainian argument is that the F-16 is better than the MIG at shooting down cruise missiles because of its powerful radar and modern missiles, and could offer vastly more protection from Russian bombardment.

“It has a weapons system tied to that radar that can engage the vast majority of Russian aircraft long before they can attack it,” Greg Bagwell, a former British Royal Air Force commander who is president of the Air and Space Power Association, said in a recent interview with Radio Liberty.

“It’s tiny, it’s hard to see on radar, it’s even harder to see in the air with the naked eye,” he said of the F-16, adding: “It’s a vicious, nasty, dangerous little airplane.”

Valerie Hopkins

March 17, 2023, 7:22 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 7:22 a.m. ET

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A Russian Su-27 fighter approaching the back of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday as seen in a still image taken from a government handout video.Credit...U.S. Department of Defense, via Associated Press

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it would give state awards to the pilots of two Su-27 fighter jets that forced a $32 million American reconnaissance drone into the depths of the Black Sea on Tuesday, an incident that escalated tensions between the two superpowers.

The ministry announced in a statement that Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu would decorate the pilots for preventing “the violation by the American MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle of the boundaries” of airspace that Russia says it has restricted.

The Kremlin has said that the incident was caused by U.S. noncompliance with a flight restriction zone declared by Russia. The United States has said the drone was flying in international airspace and called its interception “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”

The Pentagon released video of the incident on Thursday showing two high-speed passes by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets, which spray a substance the Defense Department says is jet fuel on the MQ-9 Reaper drone. On a final pass, one of the Russian jets collides with the drone, the Pentagon says, and the camera feed is lost for about 60 seconds. The footage that was released does not show the collision.

The video then resumes, showing the aircraft’s damaged propeller, which the Pentagon said was struck by the Russian jet. Moscow has denied that its planes came into contact with the drone.

On Thursday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it would try to salvage the downed drone. State news media, citing an unnamed official, said an underwater robot had detected the remnants of the drone about 40 miles from the port city of Sevastopol, on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, at a depth of about half a mile underwater.

Steven Erlanger

March 17, 2023, 5:42 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 5:42 a.m. ET

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday.Credit...Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office, via Reuters

Turkey announced on Friday that it would move to ratify Finland’s application to join NATO, clearing a significant hurdle for the Nordic nation’s bid to join the alliance but leaving neighboring Sweden on the sidelines for now.

“We decided to start the ratification process in our Parliament for Finland’s membership,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey told a news conference, saying he hoped the vote would take place before elections in mid-May.

The announcement came as Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, met in Ankara with Mr. Erdogan. The leaders had both telegraphed that the announcement was coming, with Mr. Erdogan saying this week that Turkey would “keep our promise.”

For Finland to join NATO after decades of military nonalignment would be a major shift in the balance of power in the region between the Western military alliance and Russia. It represents a significant diplomatic and strategic defeat for Moscow and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Putin made clear before invading Ukraine last year that his intention was to block NATO’s expansion. But his invasion instead convinced Finnish and Swedish leaders that there was no real security guarantee for them outside the alliance.

Finland has a border of 830 miles with Russia, Europe’s longest, and an extensive history of resisting Moscow’s hegemony. Favoring self-reliance, Finland did not shrink its military after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and 10 months ago it pulled a more reluctant Sweden along to apply to join NATO.

But Mr. Erdogan has been blocking them, claiming that Sweden has become a haven for Kurdish separatists and other dissidents he considers terrorists. So far, Stockholm’s efforts to satisfy him, including a new terrorism law, have failed.

The Turkish president has intermittently demanded the extradition of more than 120 people now in Sweden, as he did again on Friday. Talks will likely continue in the hope that Turkey will finally approve Sweden’s membership bid after the Turkish elections in May, but before NATO’s summit meeting in Lithuania in mid-July.

Mr. Erdogan’s decision opens the way for Turkey’s Parliament to ratify Finland’s membership in the alliance, which requires unanimous approval from the 30 nations in the bloc. Hungary is the only other country whose Parliament has not ratified the bids by Finland or Sweden. Its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has vacillated on when the Hungarian Parliament will vote, although he insists that Hungary has no objection to membership of either Nordic country.

With elections in Finland on April 2, the country’s current government decided to pass all necessary legislation to join NATO in order to prevent any period of uncertainty while a new government is formed. So the only votes outstanding rest with the Turkish and Hungarian Parliaments.

On Friday, Mr. Niinisto thanked Mr. Erdogan for the move to ratify but told the news conference that Finland’s membership “is not complete without Sweden.”

The Turkish leader faces a tough election battle in mid-May with a ropy economy and high inflation, as well as criticism about his government’s handling of the recent devastating earthquake. The battle against Kurdish terrorism is popular politics in Turkey and plays well among opposition voters, too. And Turks in general like the attention and leverage that Mr. Erdogan’s unpredictability often provides.

Hungary has wielded its veto power within the European Union over sanctions against Russia to try to secure concessions on other issues, and analysts say Mr. Orban appears to be doing the same thing over Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Mr. Orban is also known to be annoyed by criticism of Hungary within the European Union from Sweden and Finland.

Johanna Lemola, Gulsin Harman and Anushka Patil contributed reporting.

March 17, 2023, 5:16 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 5:16 a.m. ET

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Ukrainian troops firing toward Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, this month.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

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The 80th Air Assault Brigade fired a British howitzer toward Russian positions in Bakhmut recently.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

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Soldiers from the 71st Separate Hunting Brigade of the Air Assault Forces on the front line in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The Ukrainian military is firing thousands of artillery shells a day as it tries to hold the eastern city of Bakhmut, a pace that American and European officials say is unsustainable and could jeopardize a planned springtime campaign that they hope will prove decisive.

The bombardment has been so intense that the Pentagon raised concerns with Kyiv recently after several days of nonstop artillery firing, two U.S. officials said, highlighting the tension between Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut at all costs and its hopes for retaking territory in the spring. One of those officials said the Americans warned Ukraine against wasting ammunition at a key time.

With so much riding on a Ukrainian counteroffensive, the United States and Britain are preparing to ship thousands of NATO and Soviet-type artillery rounds and rockets to help shore up supplies for a coming Ukrainian offensive.

But a senior American defense official described that as a “last-ditch effort” because Ukraine’s allies do not have enough ammunition to keep up with Ukraine’s pace and their stocks are critically low. Western manufacturers are ramping up production, but it will take many months for new supplies to begin meeting demand.

This has put Kyiv in an increasingly perilous position: Its troops are likely to have one meaningful opportunity this year to go on the offensive, push back Russian forces and retake land that was occupied after the invasion began last year. And they will probably have do it while contending with persistent ammunition shortages.

Natalia Yermak contributed reporting.

March 17, 2023, 3:40 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 3:40 a.m. ET

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in Beijing last year, in a photo from Russian state news media.Credit...Sputnik, via Reuters

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, will travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin next week in a visit that could have broad implications for Moscow’s war in Ukraine and the troubled relationship between Beijing and Washington.

Mr. Xi is expected to make a state visit to Russia from Monday to Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin said in statements. It will be his first visit to Russia since the country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

Mr. Xi’s trip will be watched closely by leaders in the United States and Europe who are frustrated with China’s diplomatic and economic support for Russia. Although the two nations have not declared a formal alliance, Beijing maintains deep strategic ties with Moscow as a like-minded nuclear-armed power that seeks to weaken Washington’s geopolitical dominance. Just three weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin visited Beijing, where the two leaders declared a “no limits” friendship.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has warned that China is considering escalating its support for Russia by providing weapons for it to use in Ukraine, an accusation that Beijing has denied.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will meet on Monday afternoon in Moscow for a one-on-one conversation and lunch, and the two leaders will also hold a news conference, said the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said that Mr. Xi would use the visit to increase the “mutual trust and understanding” between the two countries, which he said had “established a new paradigm for international relations.”

At the same time, China would seek to play a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine, he said.

“President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia this time is also for peace,” Mr. Wang said when asked whether Mr. Xi would try to push Mr. Putin to seek a political settlement with Ukraine. “China’s proposition can be summed up in one sentence, which is to persuade peace and promote talks.”

He also implicitly criticized Western nations’ tough approach to punishing Russia, saying that “unilateral sanctions” and “extreme pressure” would only worsen the crisis. The Kremlin said that talks between Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi would center on the “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between the two countries.

China has cast itself as a rare neutral party well positioned to negotiate a political settlement between Ukraine and Russia. The country recently released a position paper calling for an end to the war, but the document was widely criticized by Western leaders for lacking concrete plans and avoiding demands that could hurt China’s close ties with Russia.

Mr. Xi has sought to burnish his image as a global statesman, most notably with the announcement last week that Beijing had brokered a surprise deal to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. That agreement came after extensive talks in which both sides had expressed a willingness to mend ties.

Mediating in the war in Ukraine would be a far greater challenge, with neither Ukraine nor Russia appearing ready to negotiate an end to the fighting. Many Western leaders are skeptical about Mr. Xi’s intentions because of his conflicting goals and interests. Beijing has never criticized Russia’s invasion and parrots the Kremlin’s assertion that NATO provoked the war.

It is unclear whether Mr. Xi will also meet or speak separately with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and China spoke over the phone in a rare official contact. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said the two discussed “the principle of territorial integrity.” China said its foreign minister, Qin Gang, told his Ukrainian counterpart that Beijing would “continue to play a constructive role in bringing an end to the conflict, mitigating the crisis and restoring peace.”

Mr. Qin said China was concerned the conflict was dragging on and could “spiral out of control.” He urged both sides to “exercise restraint” and “resume peace talks as soon as possible,” according to the ministry, while referring to the situation in Ukraine as a “crisis” rather than a war.

Mr. Wang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, did not directly answer when asked if the foreign ministers had discussed potential contact between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky, saying only that China continued to “maintain communication with all parties.”

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said on Monday that the United States had been encouraging Mr. Xi to speak to Mr. Zelensky, in part to discourage China from supplying Russia with arms.

“It would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the P.R.C. is approaching this,” Mr. Sullivan said, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. “And we hope it would continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide lethal assistance to Russia.”

In addition to the war in Ukraine, Mr. Xi will also discuss with Mr. Putin how to continue strengthening cooperation between their countries, Mr. Wang said. Asked whether Russia and China would seek a formal alliance, Mr. Wang said they were interested in a “new type of major power relations.”

“This is completely different from the practice of some countries, which cling to a cold war mentality, gang up, engage in ‘small circle’ and factional confrontations, and bully all over the place,” he said.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

Andrew Higgins

March 17, 2023, 1:59 a.m. ET

March 17, 2023, 1:59 a.m. ET

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Two MIG-29 fighter jets during NATO exercises near an air base in Lask, in central Poland, last year.Credit...Radoslaw Jozwiak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The government of Slovakia said on Friday that it would send 13 Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine, a day after a similar announcement by Poland’s president, marking a possibly significant shift from NATO allies in increasing arms supplies for Kyiv.

Most of Slovakia’s MIG-29 warplanes are not in working order so their delivery to Ukraine, most likely to provide spare parts for Ukraine’s own fleet of Soviet-era jets, will not change the balance of force on the battlefield. But it could add momentum to a Polish-led push within NATO, of which both Slovakia and Poland are members, to break a taboo on sending Ukraine warplanes to defend against Russia’s invasion.

Until Poland’s surprise announcement on Thursday that it would send a first batch of four MIG-29s within days, NATO countries, including the United States, had refrained from providing jets, even aging or damaged Soviet-era ones.

With Russia expected to mount spring offensives, the push to provide Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons has been accelerating, particularly in Europe’s former Soviet eastern edge, which has been especially vocal about opposing Russia’s aggression.

But Slovakia’s planes had required servicing by Russia engineers to keep flying and have all been grounded for months because of concerns over their airworthiness. And domestic political wrangling is likely to complicate execution of the pledge by the government, a caretaker administration with limited powers.

Slovakia first raised the possibility of sending MIG-29s a year ago, but the government behind that offer collapsed in December, leaving the country in the hands of the interim administration. Opposition politicians against helping Ukraine and some constitutional experts have argued that a decision on sending jets must wait until after new elections later this year or gain approval from Slovakia’s Parliament, in which the current government does not have a majority.

The announcement on Friday, which Ukraine’s government welcomed, defied those who insist the interim leadership cannot take such an important decision. The acting prime minister, Eduard Heger, wrote on Twitter: “Promises must be kept.” He did not specify the timing of any delivery of warplanes.

The Russian Embassy in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, contended that such a transfer would be illegal, saying in a statement that “relevant Russian-Slovak agreements explicitly prohibit any transfer of weapons and military hardware to third countries without consent from the country of origin,” Russia’s Tass news agency reported.

Robert Fico, who resigned as Slovakia’s prime minister in 2018 amid corruption allegations involving organized crime, has insisted that the constitution bars the acting prime minister from taking a decision on warplanes. He told a recent news conference that Mr. Heger is “either completely stupid” or taking orders from the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava.

If, as many expect, Mr. Fico’s party performs well in a general election this autumn, Slovakia could join Hungary, currently the only country within the European Union opposed to arming Ukraine, in an alliance of Ukraine skeptics.

Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has so far been out of step with fellow leaders within NATO and the European bloc because of his equivocal stance over the war in Ukraine. But the possible return of Mr. Fico as prime minister or as a significant force in Slovakia’s government afer elections could give the Hungarian leader new clout and weaken Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine.

Russia, calculating that it can outlast the West, has been banking for months on a gradual crumbling of European resolve under public pressure over inflation and other economic pain. It was bitterly disappointed this month when voters in Estonia gave a big election victory to a staunchly pro-Ukrainian government.

If political uncertainty in Slovakia gives Moscow a new opportunity to undermine Western resolve, it would be the opposite of the outcome Poland wanted when it on Thursday announced its decision to send MIG-29s to Ukraine, a move that appeared intended to open the door to more advanced warplanes from NATO allies and entrench a more hawkish line against Russia.

The Kremlin on Friday brushed off Poland’s pledge, saying the jets would not affect the war’s outcome.

“All this equipment will be subject to destruction,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters. “It seems that these countries really want to dispose of their old unnecessary equipment this way.”

Ivan Nechepurenko, Matt Surman and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg

March 16, 2023, 3:01 p.m. ET

March 16, 2023, 3:01 p.m. ET

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Credit...Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images

Moscow will face formidable obstacles if it tries to retrieve the wreckage of a U.S. Reaper drone that crashed into the Black Sea after a high-altitude collision with a Russian fighter jet, maritime rescue experts said on Thursday.

The operation could take weeks and cost tens of millions of dollars, they said. And just locating the drone might not be easy, given that it is most likely scattered on the seabed.

“The initial challenge is finding it,” said Iain Butterworth, a lawyer and engineer with extensive experience in maritime salvage operations. “It may be broken up into a number of pieces. With currents, it could be over a significant area.”

The Ukrainian military reported unusual Russian naval activity in the Black Sea on Thursday, with ships deployed in a way suggesting that they were searching for the drone, which crashed on Tuesday after an incident involving two Russian jets.

A successful salvage could be used by Moscow for propaganda purposes, but Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Russia’s military would only raise the drone if necessary for security reasons.

The drone would most likely have a beacon, but it was unclear whether Russian vessels would be able to gain access to its signal, given that it was a U.S. military aircraft, Mr. Butterworth said. The Pentagon has said that the drone’s wreckage would be of limited military value.

The next challenge is the depth of the water. The Pentagon said that the drone crashed around 75 miles southwest of Ukraine’s Crimea region, which Russia annexed illegally in 2014. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the drone went down in waters 4,000 to 5,000 feet deep.

That depth — the equivalent to approximately five Eiffel Towers standing end to end — is far beyond the range at which commercial divers can operate.

As a result, underwater robots, called Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles, would have to be deployed. The devices, widely used in the offshore oil and gas industry, often have a claw that can be used to grab onto objects.

“They would probably send mini subs to locate the things, hook it and winch it up to the surface,” said Anthony Desbrousses, the director of Marine Recoveries, a marine liability insurance firm.

“You have to collect pieces, using different sling systems, with as little impact as possible,” he said. “You are going to winch something from more than a kilometer down, so there will be currents and waves.”

Any winch would need to be attached to a vessel and, to prevent it from moving in the water as the slow process unfolds, it would need to have a dynamic positioning system, which involves engines and satellites, to keep it stable, said Mr. Desbrousses, who has extensive involvement with marine salvage.

Such systems are also widely used in the offshore energy industry and a prerequisite to any rescue attempt would be assembling the right team of experts as well as an array of complex equipment. That would probably take weeks and the costs could rise to tens of millions of dollars, the experts said. Any salvage could also be delayed by bad weather.

Russia most likely has the expertise for this kind of operation, Mr. Butterworth said, though the fact that the operation would take place in what is effectively an active military zone would make it more difficult.

Moscow also had prior experience of high-profile underwater salvage operations in difficult conditions, though not all had been successful. No survivors were found aboard the Kursk, a Russian Navy submarine that sank in around 360 feet of water in the Barents Sea in 2000. The submarine was eventually salvaged.

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