Ukraine war latest: Russia's troops 'partially pushed back' from key town, Ukraine claims – as Putin's offensive 'appears … – Sky News

The Ukrainian president has cancelled visits to Spain and Portugal after Moscow’s forces began a new offensive in the northeast of the country. Submit your question on the war for our experts to answer in the box below.
Wednesday 15 May 2024 21:46, UK
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Vladimir Putin has landed in Beijing for a two-day state visit to China, in what marks a significant show of unity between the two allies.
He was greeted by Chinese officials as he stepped off the plane in the early hours of the morning local time.
Mr Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are not expected to announce any major deals during his visit – but the trip is a sign of the two countries’ deepening “no limits” partnership.
Ahead of the visit, the Kremlin said Mr Putin and Mr Xi will “have a detailed discussion on the entire range of issues related to the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation and determine the new directions for further development of cooperation between Russia and China”.
We’re pausing our live coverage for the day – thanks for following along.
We’ll mark any major moments in the blog in the meantime, and will resume our rolling updates tomorrow. 
 By Ivor Bennett, Moscow correspondent 
You’ve heard of the transatlantic Special Relationship. 
This is the “no limits” partnership – a term coined when Vladimir Putin visited Beijing in February 2022.
It was just days before he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
A lot’s changed for Russia since then, of course. It’s now an international pariah. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is China’s support.
Why? For one, Presidents Xi and Putin share a similar outlook. Both oppose external “interference” in domestic affairs, and long for a “multipolar” world.
There are economic benefits for both, too. But this is not an equal partnership. The power lies with Beijing.
“Because of the war, Russia is in desperate need of any kind of partnership”, said Alexandra Prokopenko, a Berlin-based fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, adding that Beijing had provided “a real lifeline” for Moscow.
“China is not only a market for Russian oil and gas, which is the major source of the currency for the Russian budget, but also China’s become a very important source of imports to Russia,” she said.
Putin won’t like being the junior partner, but it’s a role he’s clearly willing to accept, given the benefits.
Last year, trade between the two nations soared to $240 billion – an increase of more than 25%.
Cheap energy flows one way; cars and telephones come back. But the West fears that’s not all Russia’s importing.
The US and others believe Chinese products and dual-use goods, like machine tools and microelectronics, are also fuelling the Kremlin’s war machine, by filling critical gaps in its military-industrial.
China denies supplying any actual weaponry, and maintains a neutral stance on Ukraine.
But the assertions have done little to dampen suspicions with US secretary of state Antony Blinken reiterating his “deep concern” today.
Putin’s entourage might also raise eyebrows. He’ll be accompanied by his new defence minister, Andrei Belousov, with Putin widely expected to push for more support for Russia’s militarised economy.
But despite the “no limits” characterisation of the relationship, analysts say it does have boundaries.
“China knows red lines,” Prokopenko said, referring to Washington’s concerns over the extent of Beijing’s support.
In her view, the partnership between Xi and Putin should be viewed “as part of a big, big game between the US and China”.
In that sense, then, this visit is likely to be more symbolic than anything else. It’s the first foreign trip of Putin’s new presidential term and signals his priorities.
But in terms of the optics – two strongmen leaders defying Western pressure – one of them is clearly stronger than the other.
These images show Vladimir Putin chairing a security council meeting. 
Former defence minister and new secretary of the council Sergei Shoigu was in attendance – pictured in the first image next to chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov.
Earlier today, Volodymyr Zelenskyy postponed all foreign trips due to the situation in the Kharviv region.
Russia has also claimed to have taken three more settlements in the country – two of which are in the Kharkiv region.
The offensive by Moscow started at the end of last week, and today our military analyst Michael Clarke says Russia has already achieved some of what it intended to do. 
He says by targeting the Kharkiv region Moscow’s main goal is to “draw Ukrianian forces from elsewhere”. 
“The Russians are trying to stretch the Ukrainian forces all the way round the front.
“If the Russians get to the village of Lyptsi then they can put Kharkiv under artillery barrage, because it is within range of normal artillery weapons.
“More importantly, the village of Vovchansk, may mark the beginning of a bigger offensive that could go southwards or maybe eastwards to link up with other forces.”
Despite fierce fighting in Vovchansk, Clarke says the Ukrainians have slowed Russian advances down, by redirecting their best units from the south.
“Parts of their best brigades have been sent north to stem the tide,” he says.
“But the Russians have already achieved what they wanted, which is to draw off some of the best troops and equipment which are fighting in Chavis Yar down in the south, which really mattered to the Ukrainians.”
Watch Clarke’s full analysis here:
Finland will change its legislation to allow thousands of reservists to patrol the country’s border with Russia, should there be a sudden wave of migrants. 
“With the changed security situation, we need to complement existing methods with new ways to maintain border security,” defence minister Antti Hakkanen said in a statement.
Finland, which joined NATO in April last year, has accused Moscow of weaponising migration against the Nordic nation, which the Kremlin denies. 
Finland shut its 1,340km-long border with Russia late last year amid a growing number of arrivals from countries such as Syria and Somalia via Russia.
Away from Kharkiv, and Ukraine has denied Russian claims of progress in the Zaporizhzhia region. 
The Ukrainian military dismissed reports that Moscow’s forces had taken control of the village of Robotyne in the southern part of the region. 
“This information is not true,” military spokesman Dmytro Pletenchuk was quoted by Ukrinform agency as saying.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has condemned the assassination attempt on Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico. 
Russia’s offensive in northern Kharkiv has been the focus of much of the reporting on the war in Ukraine over recent days.
Sky News military analyst Michael Clarke has said the aim of Moscow is to draw Ukraine’s forces to that area from the south, thus stretching the country’s military resources.
And the latest analysis from US thinktank the Institute for the Study of War suggests that the pace of the offensive “appears to have slowed over the past 24 hours”.
The group’s experts said the pattern of Russian offensive activity in the area was consistent with assessments that Vladimir Putin’s forces are prioritising the creation of a “buffer zone” in the international border area over a deeper penetration of Kharkiv Oblast.
It said several Ukrainian military officials reported yesterday that they believed the situation in Kharkiv Oblast was slowly stabilising.
“Drone footage purportedly from Vovchansk shows Russian foot mobile infantry operating within the settlement in small squad-sized assault groups, consistent with Ukrainian reports,” the analysis added.

Two people have been killed after a Russian air attack on infrastructure in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the regional governor has said.
Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram that there were a number of people who had been injured, but gave no other details.
Dnipro is Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, it sits on the Dnipro River  and is around 300 miles from Kyiv.

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