Ukraine Wants China to Play ‘Important Role’ in Ending Russian War

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for the Winter Olympics and talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, amid soaring tensions with Ukraine.
Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister, Dmytro Kuleba, urged the Chinese Communist Party to “play an important role” in ending the country’s ongoing war with Russia in remarks he gave on Tuesday, claiming the two countries have a relationship of “mutual respect.”

China is one of Russia’s closest allies and has not condemned Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia had initially invaded Ukraine in 2014, colonizing its Crimean peninsula and supporting a violent separatist uprising in the Donbas region that borders Russia. Putin escalated the conflict to a direct war between the Ukrainian and Russian militaries on February 24 in a speech in which he insisted that Ukraine had no “tradition” of being a country and was “completely created by Russia.”

China has asserted that it acknowledges Putin’s alleged “security interests” in invading Ukraine but has stopped short of recognizing the Donbas separatists as two separate sovereign states, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. China has also iterated that Ukraine has a right to be a sovereign state, challenging Putin’s claims that Ukraine as a state is a fabrication directly attributed to Vladimir Lenin.

Prior to the war, Ukraine had a turbulent relationship with China. China is its largest trade partner and President Volodymyr Zelensky had enthusiastically supported Chinese investments in the country, as well as China’s role in the debt-trap infrastructure plan the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Zelensky had also unilaterally sanctioned Chinese companies, however, for attempting to gain influence with critical national security corporations, and he nationalized the Motor Sich engine company to prevent Chinese companies from buying it.

“For decades, the Ukrainian-Chinese relations have been based on mutual respect, understanding and benefit,” Kuleba said in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday. “We share Beijing’s position on the need to find a political solution to the war against Ukraine and call on China as a global power to play an important role in this effort.”

The state media site Ukrinform noted that Kuleba also called for more sanctions on Russia to limit its ability to sustain a military assault on Ukraine. China has repeatedly opposed all sanctions on any country generally and on Russia in the context of the Ukraine war specifically.

Zelensky’s administration has repeatedly attempted to get China more involved in the conflict with Russia. This weekend, top Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podoliak similarly urged China to take on a major role in the “global security system.”

“China can be the global security system’s important element if it makes the right decision to support the civilized countries’ coalition & condemn Russia’s barbarism,” Podoliak said, according to Ukrinform, claiming the war was a chance for China to “sit at the table as equals” with countries that had previously played a more outsized role in geopolitics.

China has issued tepid statements of support to Ukraine and, in refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Donbas regions, its actions show that Beijing is attempting to find a successful place on both sides of the war. China’s ambassador to Ukraine, Fan Xianrong, issued remarks last week insisting that the Communist Party views Ukraine as a “strategic partner” and China would be “a good force for Ukraine, both economically and politically.”

“China will never attack Ukraine, we will help, in particular in the economic direction,” Fan claimed. “In one year, our country imports goods from around the world worth more than three trillion dollars. We are ready to help you develop. In this situation, which you have now, we will act responsibly.”

The Chinese state has played a minimal role in the conflict. In addition to calling for dialogue in general terms and refusing to side with Russia on the Donbas region, China has insisted it would not offer any military aid to Russia in the conflict.

“As a powerful country, Russia does not need China or other countries to provide it with weapons,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in February.

Shortly after these remarks, dictator Xi Jinping called Putin and reportedly urged him to seek “negotiation” and respect “the sovereignty and integrity” of Ukraine.

“China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation. China’s basic position on respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter is consistent, Xi told Putin,” according to China’s Global Times state newspaper.

China has critically not aided Ukraine with military support, either, and has opposed calls for sanctions or ostracizing the Russian regime on the international stage. The Chinese government, through its companies, has also previously worked to undermine Ukrainian national security, according to Kyiv.

In February 2021, Zelensky imposed unilateral sanctions on several Chinese companies, including Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, for attempting to purchase Motor Sich, an aeronautics company that specializes in jet engines. Zelensky long insisted that control of Motor Sich was pivotal to Ukrainian military power and, thus, the country’s sovereignty. When the sanctions failed to deter Chinese companies seeking to purchase, Zelensky nationalized the company, claiming to return it to “the people” to prevent Skyrizon and other Chinese companies from taking its leadership out of Ukraine.

Zelensky’s ties to China warmed considerably in summer 2021, after President Joe Biden announced he would lift sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The natural gas infrastructure project would have allowed Russia to sell natural gas directly to Germany and establish a stranglehold on the western European energy market, as well as isolating Ukraine out of that market. Zelensky, in fuming remarks that summer, insisted that lifting the sanctions would lead Russia to further aggression in Ukraine.

Following the lifting of sanctions, Biden also repeatedly snubbed Zelensky’s requests for an in-person meeting, choosing instead to meet with Putin.

By July 2021, the Global Times was boasting of signing major infrastructure deals with Zelensky.

“New contracts signed by Chinese companies in the Ukrainian engineering market have exceeded $2 billion for two consecutive years, making positive contributions to the country’s economic development, data from the [Chinese Ministry of Commerce] showed,” the propaganda outlet asserted at the time.

Zelensky himself reportedly told Xi Jinping in a phone call that month that he hoped Ukraine would become China’s “bridge to Europe.”

“China is Ukraine’s number one trade and economic partner in the world. And we are interested in the full realization of the potential of bilateral cooperation, especially in the areas of trade and major infrastructure projects,” Chinese sources quoted Zelensky as telling Xi.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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