BEIJING — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned Kyiv that if it uses force against pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine, Moscow will pull out of a multilateral conference on the issue scheduled for later this week.
The warning from Russia's foreign minister came Tuesday during a short visit to Beijing, where he met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and China's President Xi Jinping.
Lavrov said "You can't send in tanks and at the same time hold talks. The use of force sabotages the opportunity for the four-party negotiations to be held in Geneva," he added.
Lavrov made his comments during at a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wang told reporters that the decision to hold multilateral talks in Geneva on Thursday is a positive step.
He said China welcomes the fact that all relevant parties - including Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine - are working on the establishment of multilateral talks. "We would be happy to see it succeed as it is in line with China's calls to advocating peace and talks." he said.
At a time when Russia is finding itself increasingly at odds with Western powers, its ties with China are strengthening. Statements released by China's foreign ministry after Tuesday's meetings highlighted the growing closeness between Moscow and Beijing.
Chinese officials say Lavrov's trip to Beijing was largely a visit to finalize preparations for a visit to China next month by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During President Xi Jinping's meeting with Lavrov, China's leader stressed the great importance of strategic ties between the two countries, according to a foreign ministry statement. Xi also said both were experiencing a historic highpoint in ties and that relations would not only benefit both countries and their people, but help promote peace and stability in the world.
The statement said that in addition to discussing Putin's upcoming visit, the two also talked about the situation in Ukraine, with Xi outlining China's views. The statement did not elaborate.
As China works to grow its ties with Russia, the situation in Ukraine has tested Beijing on the diplomatic front. When the United Nations voted on a resolution condemning the separatist referendum in Crimea, China abstained.
That move further isolated Russia, but it also kept Beijing from aligning itself unequivocally with the United States and Europe.
Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution in Washington says the Chinese are of several minds when it comes to the Ukraine situation.
"On the one hand, Ukraine is very far distant from China and they know it and it is not connected to what the Chinese would deem their vital interests or what they call their core interests," he said. "On the other hand, the Chinese are well aware that the Russians have chosen to violate policies and principles that China holds dear or claims to hold dear about protection of territorial sovereignty, no intrusion on the internal affairs of another state."
Russia's annexation of Crimea has heightened concerns in Asia that China might use force to pursue its territorial claims in the region.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Daniel Russel, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told lawmakers that the sanctions against Russia from the United States and the European Union should have a chilling effect on anyone in China who might consider using Russia's annexation of Crimea as a model.
China says the two are completely different issues and that Beijing has made its position on both its territorial claims and Ukraine clear.