Beijing’s Foreign Minister said that Ukraine had the right to safeguard its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The Russian President has amassed close to 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern flanks, according to US officials. Defence analysts working for the Atlantic Council organisation warned that the Kremlin had completed preparations for a large-scale offensive operation.
They said that Russian forces could “likely execute a further invasion of Ukraine with less than twelve hours of unambiguous warning.”
With an invasion looking increasingly imminent, China’s top diplomat used his appearance at the Munich security conference on Saturday to warn Mr Putin against following through on his expansionist ambitions.
Wang Yi affirmed Ukraine’s right to safeguard its territorial integrity and urged a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis.
He called the Minsk Agreement the “only way out” and urged all parties to come together and solve the crisis peacefully.
Mr Yi also said that Ukraine should not be a frontline for competition among major powers.
The Minsk Agreement refers to a diplomatic accord signed in February 2015 in the Belarus capital by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of two pro-Russian separatist regions.
The deal set out a series of military and political steps that remain unimplemented.
A major blockage has been Russia’s insistence that it is not a party to the conflict and therefore is not bound by its terms.
Moscow also wants the breakaway regions to have autonomy over economic and foreign policy – something Kyiv would find very hard to countenance.
Wang Yi’s slap-down of Mr Putin comes as a major surprise, given that China’s President Xi Jinping appeared to back Mr Putin’s Ukraine policy.
The two leaders met in Beijing at the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
READ MORE: Putin mocked as Russian missile test ridiculed for ‘missing’ target
They issued a joint statement calling on the West to “abandon the ideologised approaches of the cold war”.
In a nod to Russian interests in Ukraine, China said it understood and supported “the proposals put forward by the Russian Federation on the formation of long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.”
Volodymr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s President, attended the Munich security conference today, where he met with Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s “unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
They added: “The prime minister told Zelenskiy that the UK continues to cooperate closely with international partners to make clear that any Russia incursion will be met with strength, including significant economic consequences.
Putin mobilises fearsome Chechen brigades as war fears escalate [REVEAL]
PM calls for West to dodge bloodshed in Ukraine by showing solidarity [SPOTLIGHT]
Russia-Ukraine: ‘False flag’ fear as massive war game launched [INSIGHT]
“The leaders agreed that any further Russian incursion into Ukraine would be a profound miscalculation which would be met with fierce resistance from Ukraine.
“They agreed there was still time for Putin to choose the path of peace and diplomacy.”
Western leaders continued to issue last minute appeals to the Russian President to pull back from the brink of war.
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, said it was unacceptable that Europe was facing a war over an issue that was not even an agenda – namely Ukraine’s membership of NATO.
He said: “It will not happen the next time. It will not happen in the near time. Putin knows that.”