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BEIJING: Beijing on Thursday told Russia’s foreign minister it understands Moscow’s “reasonable concerns on security issues” over Ukraine, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry, after President Vladimir Putin ordered an attack on the country.

Putin announced the launch of a major military offensive with ground troops crossing into the country from several directions on Thursday and explosions heard in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

World leaders swiftly condemned the attack, and 18 people have been killed in an air strike on a military base near Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odessa.

In a phone call between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart, Wang said that although Beijing “has always respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries… we have also seen that the Ukrainian issue has its own complicated and unique history”.

Russian army says Moscow-backed Ukraine separatists advancing

“We understand Russia’s reasonable concerns on security issues,” he added.

Beijing has been walking a diplomatic tightrope as the Ukraine-Russia crisis escalated, forced to balance its close Russia ties with major economic interests in Europe.

Russia has demanded guarantees that Kyiv will never be allowed to join NATO — and Moscow’s approach is in stark contrast to China’s long-standing stated foreign policy position not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.

On Thursday’s call Wang did not mention NATO but told Sergei Lavrov that China advocates a “balanced” and sustainable European security mechanism to be achieved through dialogue and negotiation.

More than 40 Ukraine soldiers, nearly 10 civilians killed

The foreign ministry repeatedly declined to call the attack an “invasion” at a press briefing Thursday and said it was monitoring the situation.

It has not advised its citizens in Ukraine to leave, telling them to be cautious and stick a Chinese flag on their cars.

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