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At the G-20 summit, countries couldn't reach an agreement about Ukraine

EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

Russia's war in Ukraine is now a year old, and there are no signs that the fighting will let up any time soon. The West continues to strongly support Ukraine, but powerful countries like China have refused to distance themselves from Russia. That tension was on full display this weekend at the G-20, a gathering of the world's biggest economies, which ended in disagreement over Ukraine. NPR's Joanna Kakissis is in Kyiv and joins us now. Good morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Eyder.

PERALTA: So, Joanna, update us on what happened at the G-20, and what does it mean for Ukraine?

KAKISSIS: So, you know, Russia's war on Ukraine has upended the global economy and disrupted food and energy supply chains. And that's what was discussed at the G-20. Some countries, though, won't publicly call Russia the bad guy here, like India, where the G-20 was held this weekend. India is the world's biggest democracy. It's enjoying lots of cheap Russian gas. At the meeting, India refused to criticize Russia, even as Western nations imposed new sanctions on Moscow and revealed more economic support for Ukraine. G-20 leaders as a result struggled to come up with some sort of united summary of the meeting. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged her counterparts to condemn Russia, and most of them did. But notably, China refused to sign off on any parts that referred to Russia's war on Ukraine.

PERALTA: How big a deal is that, then?

KAKISSIS: So it feels like a big deal because it comes as China welcomes the leader of Belarus, a staunch Russian ally, to Beijing this week. And remember, Washington has warned that China is considering sending military aid to Russia. And so here in Ukraine, that feels very troubling. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to this worry a few times on Friday during a press conference that lasted more than two hours. NPR was there, too. Here's one response to a Ukrainian reporter who raised the issue. Zelenskyy speaks through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) I really want to believe that China is not going to supply weapons to Russia. This is very important because, you know, it's better the way things are for China now then in Russia's embrace, because, you know, there's this risk of the Third World War.

PERALTA: A risk of a third World War - did Zelenskyy suggest how he might reach out to China to keep that risk at bay?

KAKISSIS: Well, Zelenskyy has already said he wants to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping because he wants to maintain economic ties during the war. Ukraine is dependent on Chinese imports, and he says China and Ukraine already agree on things like territorial integrity. And that's a starting point for a discussion on human rights. Here's Zelenskyy responding to a Chinese reporter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) People cannot be killed. Civilians cannot be killed. Would you agree with me? A nuclear power plant cannot be occupied. It is dangerous for the entire world. Would China agree with that?

Can you see that China agree? You see, we have so many common issues.

KAKISSIS: So, Eyder, Zelenskyy's trying to find common ground not just with China, but with other nations who have not supported Ukraine, nations in Latin America and Africa. And he says he wants to make his case to them in person, too.

PERALTA: So what's the latest on the battlefield?

KAKISSIS: So the fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine in the region known as Donbas. The fiercest fighting is still around in the town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been pummeling for, like, seven months. Ukraine is just reminding the West that many Ukrainian soldiers are dying in that fight, and they're saying that Western allies need to speed up supply of weapons to avoid any Russian gains.

PERALTA: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis reporting from Kyiv. Joanna, thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Eyder. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.