France, China agree to work for Ukraine peace

PARIS (AFP): French President Emmanuel Macron and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi agreed Wednesday to contribute “towards peace” in Ukraine, Macron’s office said following talks between the two men.

Macron has not hidden his hope that Beijing, which remains an important ally of Moscow and has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine launched nearly a year ago, will pressure Russia to return to the negotiating table.

In Paris on Wednesday, Macron and Wang discussed the war and its “consequences on the most vulnerable countries, particularly in terms of food security and financing capacity,” according to the French presidency.

Both Macron and Wang “expressed the same objective of contributing to peace in accordance with international law”, the Elysee Palace said, without specifying what each country’s contributions might be.

After his visit to France, Wang will continue his tour with a stop at the Munich Security Conference, scheduled for Friday to Sunday. He will also travel to Moscow.

The French president spoke of cooperation with China in the face of “global challenges”, including the climate crisis.

Later Wednesday, Wang met with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna. On Thursday he will hold talks on strategic issues with Macron’s diplomatic advisor, Emmanuel Bonne.

Ukraine shoots down Russian balloons

Ukraine said Wednesday its aerial defence units had detected half a dozen balloons, apparently launched by Russia, over the capital Kyiv and shot most of them down.

Kyiv authorities said the balloons could carry reconnaissance equipment and were launched to “detect and exhaust our air defence forces.”

“Most of the probes have been shot down,” the city administration said in a statement, adding authorities would carefully examine the debris.

The presence of the balloons in the sky prompted sirens to go off in the Ukrainian capital, which usually happens when missiles are approaching.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said that Russia uses balloons to exhaust Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles.

“The Russians will use all available methods of warfare to achieve their goals,” he told AFP.

“Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that these devices can conduct some kind of surveillance, so it is important to see what they are and understand them.”

Since the start of the Russian invasion last February, Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly reported Russian balloons drifting in the country’s airspace.

On Tuesday, neighbouring Moldova temporarily closed its airspace due to the presence of a flying object resembling a weather balloon amid heightened tensions with Moscow.

The United States has been in a state of alarm since a huge white balloon from China was spotted tracking over a series of top secret nuclear weapons sites, before being shot down off the east coast in early February.