Russia asked China for military support as well as economic assistance for its invasion of Ukraine, CNN reported on Sunday.
The requests came after the invasion occurred, with one official declining to detail the Chinese reaction but indicated that they had responded in some way. Despite the report, the Chinese and Russian governments publicly deny that the request happened.
Potential assistance from the Chinese would be a significant development in Russia’s invasion because it would upend the hold that Ukrainian forces have in the country — and provide a counterweight to the sanctions imposed on Russia’s economy.
News of Russia’s request came before White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in Rome on Monday as part of a follow-up conversation to US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s virtual meeting last November, according to National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne.
China providing Russia with Ukrainian support a “concern” for US
Sullivan told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that China providing Russia with support is a “concern.”
“We also are watching closely to see the extent to which China actually does provide any form of support — material support or economic support — to Russia,” Sullivan said. “It is a concern of ours. And we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions.”
China says it was not asked by Russia for military equipment or other assistance. In a statement to CNN, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the US, expressed concern for “the Ukraine situation” — calling it “indeed disconcerting” — and said China has provided and will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
“The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control,” Liu said. “China calls for exercising utmost restraint and preventing a massive humanitarian crisis.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Monday dismissed the allegations as well, saying, “Russia has an independent potential to continue the operation.” And when further pressed by journalists to confirm there wasn’t such a request from the Russian side, Peskov said: “No, there wasn’t.”
US critical of Chinese response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
US officials have been increasingly critical of China’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even though China has seemingly tried to strike a neutral tone on the international stage, Chinese domestic media coverage has promoted Russian disinformation campaigns and described the war as a “special military operation,” using the very same language used by the Russian government.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Wednesday that China “has seemingly endorsed” false Russian claims that the US is developing chemical weapons in Ukraine.
“Our assessment right now is that (China is) abiding by the requirements that have been put in place, but we would continue to encourage any country to think a lot about what place they want to — what role they want to play — in history as we all look back,” Psaki said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Sullivan said that the US has made it clear to China that there will “absolutely be consequences” for “large-scale” efforts to give Russia a workaround to US sanctions. “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.”
Sullivan also said that while the US believes “China, in fact, was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something, they may not have understood the full extent of it … Because it’s very possible that Putin lied to them the same way that he lied to Europeans and others.”
While US officials have made note that China has been abiding by the sanctions the US and its allies have imposed against Russia, Biden said recently he was not prepared to discuss his efforts to pressure China to help isolate Russia over the war. “I’m not prepared to comment on that at the moment,” Biden told reporters at the White House in February.