Ukraine live briefing: Blinken warns China against giving ‘lethal support’ to Russia, as leaders meet in Munich

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Feb. 19 said that China was considering providing lethal aid to Russia in its war against Ukraine. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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An earlier version of this report erroneously called Chuck Todd a CBS employee. Todd hosts "Meet the Press" on NBC. This version has been corrected.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is warning China against supporting Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine. Blinken said he told China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, that there would be “serious consequences” if Beijing aids Moscow with munitions or helps the Kremlin evade sanctions when the two met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. In television interviews that aired Sunday, Blinken said that China is considering providing “lethal support,” including weapons and ammunition, to Russia — and that he told Wang of Washington’s concerns.

Wang said at the Munich conference that world leaders need to think “about what kind of efforts we can make to stop this war.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to deliver a “peace speech” Friday, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Blinken said “we’ve made very clear” to China that providing lethal support to Russia for its war “would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” he told CBS’s Margaret Brennan in an interview that aired Sunday. Washington’s concern “is based on information” that indicates Chinese companies are considering boosting their aid to Russia from nonlethal to lethal, he said.
  • Blinken was in Turkey on an official visit Sunday. He was there to attempt to persuade Ankara to support Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO. Adding countries to the military alliance requires unanimity among its members, and Turkey is the main holdout. That decision is unlikely in the near term, a Turkey scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Washington Post on Sunday afternoon, because of the government’s limited bandwidth post-earthquake.
  • Russian forces are again stopping U.N. nuclear regulators from rotating out of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Sunday. Fighting in the area around the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has prompted international concern that an accident could jeopardize the continent’s safety. The International Atomic Energy Agency did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment Sunday afternoon.
  • Russia’s ambassador to Washington responded after Vice President Harris accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine in a speech at the Munich conference. Anatoly Antonov accused the Biden administration of attempting to “demonize” Russia, and claimed Washington was trying to “justify its own actions to foment the Ukrainian crisis,” according to a transcript published Sunday by Tass, a Russian state-owned news organization.
  • Russian bloggers are upset at reported plans by the Russian Ministry of Defense to consolidate the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics militias under its own force structure, according to the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War think tank. George Barros, an ISW analyst, said the bloggers, who are regularly critical of Russia’s performance in the war, feared that the Russian defense establishment planned to replace all commanders of the separatist militias with professional Russian officers. “Many Russian milbloggers met the news with discontent, disappointment, and outrage, stating that the DNR and LNR commanders have practical experience fighting Ukraine and are better than the ‘real’ Russian commanders,” an ISW report Saturday night reads.

Battleground updates

  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he plans to form a mercenary group to compete with the Wagner Group, which has been fighting alongside Russia in Ukraine. Kadyrov regularly lavishes praise on Putin, who installed him as leader in 2007. More than 30,000 Wagner Group fighters, led by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, have been killed or injured since the full-scale invasion last year, the United States said last week.
  • The United States is focused on providing weapons that can be used in a Ukrainian counteroffensive this spring, Blinken told ABC News’s Martha Raddatz on “This Week.” Raddatz had asked whether the Pentagon should be sending F-16s to help Zelensky’s forces, but Blinken said Ukraine should not “get fixated on any particular weapons system.” He stressed that training and maintenance were important factors in deciding which supplies should be sent.
  • Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said the United States needs to “start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 now.” “I’m not worried about provoking Putin,” he told Raddatz. “I want to beat him. And how do you beat him? You beat him by giving the Ukrainians the military capability to drive the Russians out of Ukraine.” Graham, who was at the Munich conference this weekend, agreed with Harris’s assertion that Russia had committed crimes against humanity and called for Putin to face a tribunal.
  • Graham also told Raddatz that “the world needs to come down hard on China” if it provides weapons to Russia for the war in Ukraine. “If you believe, as I do, and the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, believes, that Russia is engaged in crimes against humanity in Ukraine, any country that comes to their aid should pay a heavy price," Graham said. "So, that’s why we should designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism because if you do that under U.S. law, and China provides lethal weapons, they will get sanctioned.”
  • Russian forces struck the region of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine Sunday morning, according to Gov. Vitaliy Kim. Two settlements were hit with artillery around 6 a.m. local time, Kim said. According to preliminary information, no one was killed or injured, though Kim said the extent of the damage was still being clarified.
  • Artillery shelling in Russia killed a 12-year-old girl and damaged three homes on Sunday, the governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Telegram. “At the time of the shelling, she was talking with her dad on the phone, the shell exploded behind her back … no one will ever be able to console her mother and father," Gladkov said. The governor of the Kursk region, Roman Vladimirovich, also accused Ukraine of shelling the border village of Gornal, in Sudzhansky district, on Sunday. Three homes were damaged there, too, though no one was hurt, according to Vladimirovich. Ukraine did not immediately respond to the allegations.
  • Balloons spotted by Ukraine’s Armed Forces over Kyiv and Dnipro in the past week were probably Russian, said Britain’s Defense Ministry. The balloons, which carried radar reflectors, “likely represent a new tactic by Russia to gain information about Ukrainian air defence systems and compel the Ukrainians to expend valuable stocks of surface to air missiles and ammunition,” the ministry said. One such balloon may have drifted from Ukraine into Moldovan airspace, the ministry said, leading that country to temporarily close its airspace on Feb. 14.
  • The United States has spoken with Elon Musk’s SpaceX about the use of its Starlink satellite technology in Ukraine, Blinken told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview that aired Sunday. A SpaceX executive accused the Ukrainian military this month of using Starlink to power drones and said the company had taken steps to prevent unauthorized uses of its communication technology. When asked whether the U.S. government had spoken with Musk and Starlink about the restriction, Blinken said: “Well, I can’t share any conversations we’ve had other than to say we’ve had conversations.”

Global impact

  • Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki believes the West will eventually approve sending fighter jets to Ukraine, he told Brennan on “Face the Nation" on Sunday. “There were many things beyond our imagination at the beginning of the war, and then unimaginable became realizable,” Morawiecki said. “And so was with tanks, so was with the Patriot anti-aircraft, anti-missile, anti-rocket system. And I believe that also with fighter jets, eventually, there will be fighter jets from the West, delivered to Ukraine.” Poland has offered Soviet-era MiG jets to Ukraine, and the country’s “position is we can do this,” Morawiecki said, "but only in combination with other NATO allies, and in particular, under the leadership of the United States.”
  • The European Union’s foreign policy chief expressed support for an Estonian proposal to jointly procure munitions to help arm Ukraine. Josep Borrell said in Munich that he “completely” agrees with the proposal, outlined by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, for E.U. member states to pool resources to buy artillery shells for Ukraine. “We are working on that and it will work,” Borrell said.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said that “crushing Russia” has never been his country’s objective. Macron said in an interview with local media: “I do not think, as some people do, that we must defeat Russia completely, attack Russia on its own soil.” Macron has long called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, and was criticized in Kyiv when he previously called on the West not to “humiliate” Russia. Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, noted on Telegram that France is a NATO member and has sent weapons and other aid to Ukraine.
  • The West is showing Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine’s allies will not “lose our nerve,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the security conference. In his speech, Sunak urged allies to send more support, and he mentioned his nation’s vow to send longer-range missiles and other military aid.

From our correspondents

Putin, czar with no empire, needs military victory for his own survival: MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as a new czar like Peter the Great or Ivan III, the 15th-century grand prince known as the “gatherer of the Russian lands.” But Putin’s nearly year-long war in Ukraine has failed so far to secure the lands he aims to seize, and, in Russia, there is fear that he is leading his nation into a dark period of strife and stagnation or worse.

Some in the elite also say the Russian leader now desperately needs a military victory to ensure his own survival, Robyn Dixon and Catherine Belton report. “In Russia, loyalty does not exist,” said one Russian billionaire.

Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began with hubris and a zeal to reshape the world order. But even as he suffered repeated military defeats — diminishing his stature globally and staining him with allegations of atrocities being committed by his troops — Putin has tightened his authoritarian grip at home, using the war to destroy any opposition and to engineer a closed, paranoid society hostile to liberals, hipsters, LGBTQ people, and, especially, to Western-style freedom and democracy.

Now, with his troops reinforced by conscripts and convicts and poised to launch new offensives, the 70-year-old Russian leader needs a win to maintain his own credibility. “Putin needs some success to demonstrate to society that he is still very successful,” a senior Ukrainian security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss politically sensitive issues.

Natalia Abbakumova, Rick Noack, Emily Rauhala and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.