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As war rages in Ukraine, Biden says US will defend Taiwan against China 

President Joe Biden fueled tensions between superpowers by saying the U.S. will defend Taiwan with its military if China invades. In Ukraine, the war rages on and Moscow is slowly turning territories it occupies into Russian outposts.

(CN) — In a brazen policy shift, U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said the United States would commit its military to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China, raising the stakes in what many see as a new Cold War between the United States and its allies and the deepening alliance of China and Russia.

His statement came during a news conference in Tokyo and seemingly overturns long-standing U.S. “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, a self-governed island claimed by Beijing. Biden was on his first trip as president to Asia and seeking to shore up support in a part of the world he's neglected since taking office. Biden has made two trips to Europe and become consumed by the Ukraine war.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine continued to rage over the weekend with Russian forces making more small gains in Donbas, the eastern region that the Kremlin is determined to seize. Donbas has deep historical ties to Russia, many of its inhabitants are ethnic Russian and it is economically important with its steel and mining industries, large cities, hydroelectrical dams, fertile soils, Black Sea coast line and nuclear power plants, one of which in Zaporizhzhia is under Russian control.

Fighting in Donbas is now focused on the small cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. There are reports of clashes on the outskirts of both cities and Ukraine is at risk of seeing its troops encircled.

Ukrainian forces are coming under intense bombardment and suffering heavy losses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that between 50 and 100 soldiers are being killed a day in the east. He's described the fighting there as “hell.”

In a Monday speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy called on the world's business and political elites to do more to punish Russia over its invasion.

“This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world,” Zelenskyy said. “Brute force seeks nothing but the subjugation of those it wants to subdue. And it does not discuss, but kills at once, as Russia is doing in Ukraine right now, right at this time when we are talking.”

He said “maximum” sanctions must be applied.

“A Russian oil embargo. Complete blocking of all banks without exception – all. Complete abandonment of the Russian IT sector. Complete cessation of trade with the aggressor,” he said. “It is necessary to set a precedent for the complete exit of all foreign businesses from the Russian market. So that your brands are not associated with war crimes. That your offices, accounts, commodities are not used by war criminals in their bloody interests.”

More sanctions are possible and the European Union is considering an embargo on Russian oil, despite opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Russia's economy has been hit hard by the unprecedented wave of sanctions already imposed on it, but the sanctions have also driven up inflation and damaged economies around the world, raising the specter of major turmoil and even famine in many parts of the world.

Over the weekend, Zelenskyy called for a diplomatic solution to end the war, but he also said he would refuse to consider giving up any Ukrainian territory to Russia. Peace negotiations are all but stalled.

Russia, meanwhile, is slowly incorporating into its sphere territories its troops have occupied in Ukraine.

On Monday, Georgy Muradov, the vice prime minister of Crimea, claimed that the Sea of Azov, an internal sea connected to the Black Sea, belongs to Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, one of two eastern Ukrainian regions that declared themselves independent following the overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president in 2014.

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On late Friday, the last Ukrainian forces holed up inside the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol surrendered, effectively giving Russia and pro-Russian Ukrainian forces complete control over the port city on the Sea of Azov. Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk republic, said 2,439 Ukrainian troops surrendered from Azovstal and that they faced war trials in Donetsk, which allows the death penalty.

The capture of Mariupol gives Russian forces full control of the Sea of Azov and opens a land bridge between Crimea and the Donbas region. The fall of Mariupol also frees Russian troops to head to the front lines in Donbas.

The ruble has become the official currency instead of Ukrainian hryvnia in Donetsk and it is in use in other parts under Russian occupation. Russian radio stations and television channels are now occupying the air waves and pro-Russian authorities have vowed to change the curriculum in schools.

Monuments to Russian and Soviet figures have been erected or restored and the flags of the Russian Federation and self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics have replaced those of Ukraine over government buildings and public places.

Obviously, as part of the takeover new government administrations too have been put in place. On Monday, there were reports that one such administrator, the pro-Russian mayor of Energograd, was wounded along with his body guards in an explosion. Russian authorities claimed Andriy Shevchik was the victim of an assassination attempt by Ukrainian agents.

Pro-Russian media have sought to portray life in territories now under the Kremlin's control as returning to normal with cafes and most businesses open in Kherson, a city of about 283,000 people that fell into Russian hands early into the invasion. The city was not the scene of intense battles. Russian media also air interviews with residents in these territories who say they are grateful to be part of Russia. Resistance, though, remains fierce too.

Work to rebuild badly damaged Mariupol is also taking place with reports that water, transportation and hospitals are coming back on line. Russia has been shipping in huge volumes of humanitarian aid into areas it has seized too.

On Monday, Biden said the United States would not allow a scenario like that taking place in Ukraine to happen in Taiwan.

“You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter said to Biden during a news conference he held with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden replied.

“You are?” the reporter asked.

“That’s the commitment we made,” he said.

The United States has a policy to warn China against using force against Taiwan but American presidents have refrained from committing American military might in defending the island.

On Monday, the White House cast Biden's remarks as in keeping with U.S. policy toward China.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the White House said in a statement to reporters. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

This is not the first time Biden has seemingly upended American policy toward a major rival. During a speech in Warsaw, Biden apparently called for the removal of Russian President Vladimir Putin from office when he said, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The White House denied that Biden was calling for regime change.

China's foreign ministry said it “staunchly opposed” Biden’s remarks and was “strongly dissatisfied” with them, according to the South Morning China Post.

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan issue is purely a Chinese internal affair and China would not allow any interference by foreign forces,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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