Russia asked China for weapons and economic aid, US officials say

Washington warns Beijing will ‘absolutely’ face consequences if it helps Moscow evade sanctions

Tom Barnes
Monday 14 March 2022 01:39
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Russia has asked China for weapons and financial aid following its invasion of Ukraine, according to reports.

The White House is said to be concerned Beijing may undermine western efforts to help Ukrainian forces defend their country, according to several US officials who spoke to the Financial Times and The Washington Post.

The officials refused to disclose what kind of military equipment or financial support Moscow had requested, citing fears such information could inadvertently reveal how the intelligence was gathered.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who is due to meet with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday, warned Beijing that it would “absolutely” face consequences if it helped Moscow evade sweeping sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

Mr Sullivan plans in his meeting with Mr Yang to make Washington’s concerns clear while mapping out the consequences and growing isolation China would face globally if it increases its support of Russia, one US official said, without providing details.

Mr Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that Washington believed China was aware that Russia was planning some action in Ukraine before the invasion took place, although Beijing may not have understood the full extent of what was planned.

He added that Washington was watching closely to see to what extent Beijing provided economic or material support to Russia, and would impose consequences if that occurred.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Mr Sullivan said.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping meet in Beijing in February this year

“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.”

China has so far claimed neutrality over the war in Ukraine and has refused to condemn Russian leader Vladimir Putin for ordering the invasion.

Asked about Russia’s request for military aid, Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, denied the reports, saying: “I’ve never heard of that.”

He said China found the current situation in Ukraine “disconcerting” and added: “We support and encourage all efforts that are conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis.”

The US-China summit, which has been planned to take place for some time, is thought to be part of a broader effort by Washington and Beijing to maintain open channels of communication and manage competition between the world’s two largest economies.

Wang Huiyao, head of a Beijing think tank and adviser to the Chinese government, warned of “an escalatory spiral” in a column published in The New York Times on Sunday, and said China was “uniquely positioned to act as a neutral mediator between a western-supported Ukraine and Russia” to end the war.

“Unpalatable as some in the west may find the idea, it is time to offer the Russian leader an off-ramp with China’s help,” Mr Wang wrote.

US officials were sceptical about the proposal given China’s ties to Russia and its spreading of misinformation related to the war.

The US, UK and the European Union have imposed sweeping, unprecedented sanctions against Russia and banned its energy imports, while providing billions of dollars of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

Individually and together they have appealed to China, Gulf nations and others that have failed to condemn the Russian invasion to join in isolating Russia from the global economy.

Beijing, a key trading partner of Russia, has refused to call Russia’s actions an invasion, although China’s president Xi Jinping last week did call for “maximum restraint” in Ukraine after a virtual meeting with German chancellor Olaf Scholz and French president Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Xi also expressed concern about the impact of sanctions on global finance, energy supplies, transportation and supply chains, amid growing signs that western sanctions are limiting China’s ability to buy Russian oil.

However, Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state-backed Chinese Global Times newspaper, said on Twitter: “If Sullivan thinks he can persuade China to participate in sanctions against Russia, he will be disappointed.”

Washington and the G7 advanced economies on Friday ratcheted up pressure on Russia by calling for revoking its “most favoured nation” trade status, which would allow them to jack up tariffs on Russian goods.

Trade made up about 46 per cent of Russia’s economy in 2020, much of that with China, its biggest export destination.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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