China’s Xi to Call Zelenskiy After Moscow Visit

(Bloomberg) — Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy plan to speak by video link in what would be their first conversation since Russia’s invasion.

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The talk would happen after a visit by Xi to Moscow next week, the Wall Street Journal said. While there was no immediate official confirmation of that trip from either the Kremlin or Beijing, both countries have said for weeks that a Xi visit was in the works as China tries to position itself as a broker to end the conflict.

While Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine rages thousands of kilometers away, NATO forces are gathering in Norway for joint drills as the defense alliance — along with Russia, China and others — vie for greater control of the Arctic.

Key Developments

  • The Arctic Is Where NATO and Russia Are Flexing Military Muscle

  • Wheat Futures Fall as Russia Meets UN to Discuss Grain Corridor

  • Russia Stays India’s Main Arms Supplier But Imports Dip Sharply

  • Putin to Meet Business Tycoons For the First Time Since the Start of War

(All times CET)

Xi Set for Call With Zelenskiy (1:57 pm)

Xi and Zelenskiy plan to speak by video link, although no date has yet been set for the conversation, according to a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations. The president of Ukraine has long sought talks with China, which has emerged as one of Russia’s largest global supporters amid the conflict.

Beijing last month released proposals to achieve peace in Ukraine, but they were quickly rejected as one-sided by Kyiv’s allies in the US and Europe. Zelenskiy was less categorical, saying “it’s good that China has started to talk about Ukraine” and welcoming Beijing’s commitment to the principle of territorial integrity.

Russia Expands Military Draft Eligibility (1:07 pm)

Russia plans to draft men up to the age of 30 for army service from 2024, up from 27 now, as it seeks to expand its military to 1.5 million.

At the same time, the lower age for eligibility for military service will be raised from 18 to 19 next year, 20 in 2025 and 21 in 2026, according to a draft law submitted to the lower house of parliament. The move means students are exempt from service but graduates would be eligible for conscription.

President Putin in December approved the Defense Ministry’s plans to boost the size of his military to 1.5 million from the current target level of 1.15 million, although the Kremlin has not said how fast the expansion will be.

One Dead in Strike Against Village in Northeastern Ukraine (12:42 pm)

A Russian missile strike killed one person and wounded four in a village in the northeastern Sumy region, 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Russia, the local administration said on Telegram.

Putin Praises Chechen Troops Fighting in Ukraine (12:41 pm)

Putin hailed the contribution of Chechen troops to his invasion of Ukraine as the Caucasus Mountain region’s leader vowed to fight until “final victory.”

In a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov told Putin that popular support in his region for the war is strong. “Give the boys my best fight,” Putin responded. “Thanks very much to them.”

Chechnya, the site of bloody fighting with Islamist separatists as recently as the early 2000s, has sent thousands of troops to fight in Ukraine.

Wagner Chief Says Ammunition Flowing From Ministry of Defense (10:45 am)

The founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yegveny Prigozhin, said that he has resolved a dispute with the Ministry of Defense over a lack of shell supplies.

Wagner, which is leading a months-long assault on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, received 27 trucks of ammunition over the past 48 hours, Prigozhin said in an audio message posted by his press service late Sunday.

“There is no conflict between fighters from Wagner and the Ministry of Defense,” he said.

Russia Reopens the Door on Economic Data, a Bit (10:45 am)

Russia’s Federal Customs Service said it is resuming publication of some trade data suspended in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine last year.

The government had stopped the release of a broad range of indicators about a year ago in an effort to complicate outside efforts at assessing the impact of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. But with the economic hit from the restrictions less than many had expected, the government has been showing some openness of late.

The Customs Service reported only overall numbers for goods trade last year, putting exports at $591.5 billion and imports at $259.1 billion in 2022, according to Interfax. The Bank of Russia had already reported figures for goods and services trade. Customs did not provide a breakdown by country.

Putin to Meet Tycoons for First Time Since Start of War (7:57 am)

Putin plans to meet top business leaders in the Kremlin this week for the first time since he launched the invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with the preparations.

The March 16 gathering with the top members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) comes as the government, struggling to cover rising spending as the war enters its second year, is stepping up pressure on companies to pay more in taxes. Last year’s meeting with the tycoons was scrapped amid the fighting.

Where last year, many tycoons were worried that appearing publicly with Putin might make them targets of sanctions, most of the major RSPP board members are now subject to the restrictions.

NATO Holds Joint War Drills in the Arctic (7:57 am)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is holding joint war exercises in Norway as it jockeys with Russia, China and others for greater control of the Arctic.

Estimates suggest that the Arctic region holds around one-fourth of the globe’s oil and natural gas resources, while its sea routes could shave days if not weeks off traditional commercial shipping passages.

The drills also suggest that regardless of what happens in Ukraine, NATO states are headed into a long-term climate of confrontation with Russia.

Russia Says West Continues to Block Its Agriculture Exports (7:57 am)

Russia reiterated ahead of Monday consultations with the UN in Geneva that the only part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative that has been effectively enforced is allowing Ukrainian exports, while its own agricultural shipments continue to be blocked by Kyiv’s allies, according to a statement on Foreign Ministry’s website over the weekend.

The agreement, whose 120-day run ends on March 18, has enabled the shipment of 24 million tons of Ukrainian crops since it was negotiated last July.

Russia is aware of various statements regarding the possible extension of the grain deal, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in the statement, adding that there have been no talks on this yet, especially with Russia’s participation. Hulusi Akar, the defense minister of Turkey, which brokered the deal, said his government expects the grain deal to be extended.

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