Will China join war in Ukraine? Embattled Putin asks neighbor for help with invasion

US officials say Russia has asked China for military equipment two weeks into the Ukraine invasion, forces the US to issue a stark warning to Beijing


                            Will China join war in Ukraine? Embattled Putin asks neighbor for help with invasion
Xi Jinping accompanies Vladimir Putin during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People on June 25, 2016, in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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The United States is rushing to prevent a new axis of power between China and Russia, after it emerged on March 13 that Vladimir Putin asked China for military equipment. A new report claims that Russia is seeking support for China, as its war on Ukraine drags on longer than planned. The news has forced the US into a meeting with China on Rome, scheduled for March 14, in an attempt to further isolate the Russians. 

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While the west has been more or less united in its response to Russia's invasion, reactions in the east have been quite different. Russian allies like China, India, and the Gulf states refused to condemn Putin outright, and many chose to abstain at the United Nations from holding Russia accountable. In fact, there are reports that claim China asked Russia to hold off its invasion till the conclusion of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which China has obviously denied. 

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It now appears as if China is extending its hand of friendship to Putin, well beyond refusing to condemn his actions in Ukraine. The reports, emerging from The Financial Times and The Washington Post, claim that Beijing could also support Moscow militarily, which would indeed be a huge blow for Ukraine and the west.

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Burnt-out Russian tanks and armored carriers after a battle in Bucha, Ukraine. (@StratcomCentre/Twitter)

Did Russia run out of weapons?

As we reported before, Russia's invasion of Ukraine was expected to be swift and quick, akin to the Nazis taking over Europe in the 1930s and 40s. However, a brave resistance by Ukraine has bogged Russia down, turning the battle into a long-drawn-out war that is proving costly to both sides. Not only is Russia losing men, but also equipment, as Ukrainians seize armored carriers, tanks, and a variety of other equipment from dead or fleeing Russian soldiers.

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It appears those losses have severely crippled Russia's operational capabilities, so much so that they have had to look to China for help. It's unclear what type of weapons Russia asked for, and how much. It's also unclear if China has fulfilled those requests, but officials told The Times and The Post that Moscow had definitely made the request for support. It's unclear what the full extent of Russia's losses are, but most reports indicate that they are indeed heavy. 

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National Security advisor Jake Sullivan also stressed the claims during an interview with CNN on March 13. "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. 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," Sullivan told the network. He added, "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." 

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White House Press National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during the daily press conference at the White House on February 04, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

US, China officials to meet

In light of the news, Sullivan also confirmed he would meet with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi in Rome on March 14. That meeting was initially billed as a follow-up to President Joe Biden's call with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping in November 2021, but it's clear that there will now be the topic of Russia on the table. The White House also confirmed that, adding that regional and global security in light of Russia's invasion was to be discussed. 

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Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the US denied the claims that China was supporting Russia. "I've never heard of that," he said in a statement. It reiterates China's soft backing for Russia, even as the humanitarian cost of the war continues to escalate every day. For the US, keeping Beijing and Moscow apart will be a key task, if it really wants to isolate Putin from the world economy, but that task now looks far tougher than expected. 

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