Russia and China show off deepening ties amid maneuvering over Ukraine

Chinese official Wang Yi shaking hands with Vladimir Putin
Chinese foreign policy official Wang Yi, left, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Kremlin on Wednesday.
(Anton Novoderezhkin / Kremlin Pool Photo)

Russia and China showcased their deepening ties Wednesday in a series of meetings closely watched for signs that Beijing might offer the Kremlin stronger support for its war in Ukraine.

The visit to Moscow by Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, comes as the conflict in Ukraine continues to upend the global diplomatic order.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War, and ties between China and the U.S. are also under serious strain. Moscow suspended its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with Washington this week. And the U.S. expressed concern in recent days that China could provide arms and ammunition to Russia.


Speaking at the start of talks with Wang, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed ties between the two countries and added that the Kremlin expects Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Russia.

The Russian leader noted escalating international tensions, adding that, “in this context, cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on the global arena is particularly important for stabilizing the international situation.”

Although Wang said that “Chinese-Russian relations aren’t directed against any third countries and certainly can’t be subject to pressure from any third countries,” the specter of the war and the ways in which it has galvanized the West and deepened its divide with Russia hung over Wang’s meeting with Putin.

China’s top diplomat, whose country has provided strong support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, says Beijing wants to play a role in ending the war.

Feb. 21, 2023

For instance, Wang emphasized that Moscow and Beijing both support “multipolarity and democratization of international relations” — a reference to their shared goal of countering perceived U.S. dominance in global affairs.

Earlier Wednesday, Wang held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “Our ties have continued to develop dynamically, and despite high turbulence in the global arena, we have shown the readiness to speak in defense of each other’s interests,” Lavrov said.

Wang responded in kind, underlining Beijing’s focus on deepening ties with Russia — a relationship it has said has “no limits.”


China has pointedly refused to criticize the invasion of Ukraine while echoing Moscow’s claim that the U.S. and NATO were to blame for provoking the Kremlin. The government in Beijing also has criticized the sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says U.S. intelligence suggests China is considering providing arms and ammunition to Russia.

Feb. 19, 2023

Russia, in turn, has staunchly supported China amid tensions with the U.S. over Taiwan.

The two nations have held a series of military drills that showcased their increasingly close defense ties. China, Russia and South Africa are holding naval drills in the Indian Ocean this week.

A Russian frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov, arrived in Cape Town in recent days sporting the letters Z and V on its sides, letters that mark Russian weapons on the front lines in Ukraine and are used as a nationalistic symbol in Russia.

The rapprochement has worried the West. U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said that any Chinese involvement in the Kremlin’s war effort would be a “serious problem.”

The U.S. says China has responded affirmatively to a request from Russia for military equipment to assist it in its war on Ukraine.

March 15, 2022

Government-backed scholars in China shrugged off Washington’s warnings over Beijing’s relationship with Moscow as a reflection of what they described as a polarizing and distorted U.S. view.

The Global Times quoted Zhang Hong, associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying the U.S. and its allies have looked at the Russia-Ukraine conflict through “colored glasses.”


“It seems like anyone who talks with Russia will be seen as siding with Moscow in [the] Russia-Ukraine conflict,” the English-language Chinese newspaper quoted Zhang as saying.

Wang’s talks with Lavrov followed his meeting Tuesday with Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, who called for closer cooperation with Beijing to counter what he described as Western efforts to maintain dominance by thwarting an alliance between China and Russia.

Though China recently has emphasized its close ties with Moscow, it also has to tread carefully to avoid an escalation of tensions with the West as it looks to stimulate its economy after the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Isolation from the West is not something [Beijing] wants to risk,” Yu Jie, senior research fellow on China at Chatham House, a British think tank, said in comments published Wednesday. “President Xi and his colleagues have begun to realize that cooperation with Russia comes with substantial limits to avoid undermining China’s own political priorities and longer-term economic interests.”

Wang’s trip to Moscow took place against a backdrop of grinding battles in Ukraine as neither side appeared to gain momentum, after weeks of virtual stalemate. Ukraine’s presidential office said at least seven civilians were killed between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

During a speech at a patriotic concert, Putin on Wednesday hailed Russia’s “heroic” troops and claimed that Moscow’s forces were fighting for the country’s “historic frontiers” to protect its “interests, people, culture, language and territory.”

President Biden delivered a forceful speech Tuesday in Poland ahead of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Feb. 21, 2023

“When we stand together we have no equals,” he shouted to enthusiastic response at a Moscow sports arena.

Putin’s announcement Tuesday that Russia would suspend its participation in the New START nuclear nonproliferation treaty raised new concerns about the fate of the arms pact, which was already on life support.


The move follows Moscow’s decision last fall to allow the resumption of U.S. inspections of its nuclear sites but also its refusal to hold a scheduled round of consultations under the pact.

The lower house of Russia’s parliament Wednesday quickly endorsed Putin’s move to suspend the treaty, with officials and lawmakers casting it as an eleventh-hour warning to Washington amid the tensions over Ukraine.

Reflecting Beijing’s cautious stance, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the treaty was key to peace and stability and that China hopes “the two sides will properly resolve their differences.”