Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked Putin to “negotiate” to resolve the conflict with Ukraine as Russian troops step up the invasion.

According to the Financial Times, Xi told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to use “balanced negotiations” in a phone call on Feb. 25.

Xi reiterated that China respects all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity but did not elaborate on whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violated those principles.

Chinese officials questioned whether the Russian invasion should be called an “invasion.” In contrast, Chinese media said Putin was conducting a “special military operation” and reiterated the Russian president’s claim that he had no plans to occupy Ukraine.

After accusing the U.S. of “hyping” the threat of war, Beijing’s response shows that the path the West must take as it seeks to punish Putin is fraught with contradictions.

The task is more difficult if Beijing maintains strong political and economic support for Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 25 that the Russian leader would send a high-level delegation “for talks with a Ukrainian delegation” to Belarusian capital Minsk.

Peskov told foreign journalists that Russia sees the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine as the ostensible justification for Putin’s invasion and an “inseparable component of neutral status.”

Belarus, which has previously hosted talks over the stalled peace process in the Donbas region, is now hosting Russian troops attacking Ukraine, making the prospect of negotiations there unlikely.

According to the Telegraph, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said on Feb. 25 that Moscow wants to “free Ukraine from oppression.”

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Lavrov said: “Putin decided to conduct a special military operation to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine so that, freed from oppression, Ukrainians themselves could freely determine their future.”

Sergei Lavrov denied that Moscow has plans to occupy Ukraine, saying, “President Putin said we want the Ukrainian people, all people living in Ukraine, to have a right to choose their future. No one is going to occupy Ukraine.”

Dozens of journalists who cover Russian foreign affairs, including those from state media, signed an open statement opposing the war on Thursday, Feb. 24.

The Kremlin has also said it will impose retaliatory measures on the West.

Dmitry Peskov, Russia’s spokesman, said sanctions would pose challenges but would not be insurmountable because it has decreased its reliance on foreign goods.

Dmitry Peskov declined to say how long Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will go, adding that any queries about Ukrainian civilian casualties should be directed to the military.

The Financial Times reported that the European Union said on Feb. 25 that it was preparing to freeze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov under the sanctions plan, along with some measures against Russian banks and industry. However, Putin and Lavrov will not be subject to the travel ban under these measures.

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