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G7 nations call on China not to help Russia amid global food and energy crises.

The G7 has warned that the war in Ukraine is stoking a global food and energy crisis that threatens poor countries, and urgent measures are needed to unblock stores of grain Russia is preventing from leaving Ukraine.

In a statement released at the end of a three-day meeting on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, the G7 nations also called on China not to help Russia, including by undermining international sanctions or justifying Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

“Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe,” the group said.

“We are determined to accelerate a co-ordinated multilateral response to preserve global food security and stand by our most vulnerable partners in this respect. The G7 asked Beijing to support the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, and “not to assist Russia in its war of aggression”.

The group – which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US – also called on China “to desist from engaging in information manipulation, disinformation and other means to legitimise Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”.

The meeting in Weissenhaus, north east of Hamburg, was billed as an opportunity for officials to discuss the broader implications of the war for geopolitics, energy and food security, and international efforts to tackle climate change and the pandemic.

In a series of closing statements, the G7 nations also addressed a range of global problems, from the situation in Afghanistan to tensions in the Middle East.

On Friday, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba appealed to friendly countries to provide more military support to Kyiv and increase the pressure on Russia, including by seizing its assets abroad to pay for rebuilding Ukraine. He said his country remains willing to talk to Russia about unblocking grain supplies stuck in Ukraine’s silos and about reaching a political agreement to end the war, but had so far received “no positive feedback” from Moscow.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview published on Saturday that he had not detected any change in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s stance recently. Mr Scholz, who spoke at length by phone with the Russian president on Friday, told German news portal t-online that Mr Putin had failed to achieve the military objectives he set out at the start of the war while losing more Russian soldiers than the Soviet Union did during its decade-long campaign in Afghanistan.

“Putin should slowly begin to understand that the only way out of this situation is through an agreement with Ukraine,” Mr Scholz was quoted as saying.

The G7 meeting was attended by senior diplomats from its member countries. Representatives from Moldova and Indonesia were also invited to participate in some of the talks.

Kharkiv withdrawal

Meanwhile, Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv after weeks of heavy bombardment, the Ukrainian military said as the two sides engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s east.

Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the north-eastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and air strikes in the eastern Donetsk region to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications”.

Defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine is “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war”.

As the country’s top prosecutor put a Russian soldier on trial for war crimes, the first of dozens that could face charges, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” he said in his nightly video address on Friday.

Russia’s offensive in Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, appeared to be turning into a village-by-village, back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.

After failing to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, the Russian military decided to concentrate on the Donbas, but its troops have struggled to gain ground.

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine’s forces had made progress, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

Western officials said Ukraine had driven Russian forces back around Kharkiv, which was a key target for Moscow’s troops. “The Russians really haven’t made much in the way of tactical gains recently,” one western official said, describing the war’s front line as “oscillating”.

“The Ukrainians continue to launch counterattacks, particularly around Kherson and Kharkiv. We expect this to settle into a long attritional battle,” the official added.

The Ukrainian military chief for the Luhansk region of Donbas said on Friday that troops had nearly full control of Rubizhne, a city with a pre-war population of around 55,000.

Pontoon bridge

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.

“The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the river in Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of Moscow’s struggle to salvage a war gone awry.

Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.

The UK ministry of defence said Russia lost “significant armoured manoeuvre elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops. It said the risky river crossing was a sign of “the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”.

In the ruined southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant faced continued Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city.

Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, said his troops will hold out “as long as they can” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, told the country’s Suspilne news outlet that Ukrainian authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops from the steelworks.

She said Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the plant, who number in the hundreds. An aide to Mariupol’s mayor said between 150,000 and 170,000 civilians remain in the city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000. Petro Andryushchenko said the residents were “hostages” of the occupying Russian forces, “with almost no chance to escape to Ukraine”. – AP

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