The faltering Russian invasion of Ukraine has created huge problems for the Russian military. In many places, the Russian supply chain has completely broken down, starving frontline units from basic goods, such as food, fuel, and ammunition.
For the Kremlin, any Chinese help, military or financial, would be of great value at this crucial juncture of the “special military operation.”
You’ve Been Warned
On Friday morning, U.S. President Joe Biden talked with President Xi Jinping over a secure phone line. In a call that lasted approximately two hours, President Biden and President Xi discussed the situation in Ukraine and bilateral issues.
“President Biden outlined the views of the United States and our Allies and partners on this crisis. President Biden detailed our efforts to prevent and then respond to the invasion, including by imposing costs on Russia. He described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians. The President underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis,” the White House said in a press statement after the call.
Chinese direct military support to Russia is almost improbable. However, Beijing could send Moscow indirect support, such as food rations or medical supplies, to help in the invasion in exchange for concessions elsewhere.
“President Biden made clear the implication and consequences of China providing material support — if China were to provide material support — to Russia as it prosecutes its brutal war in Ukraine, not just for China’s relationship with the United States but for the wider world,” a senior U.S. administration official said after the call between the two leaders.
In all of the United Nations votes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China has abstained.
In response to the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has successfully mobilized an alliance of nations to oppose and sanction Russia. U.S. diplomacy is at its highest, and Beijing is taking heed of that and what it could mean should it decide to directly or indirectly support Moscow.
“The President spent — the vast majority of the nearly two hours was spent with the President outlining the views of the United States and our Allies and partners on this crisis, including a detailed overview of efforts to prevent and then respond to the invasion, how we got here, steps we’ve taken, where we’ve gone, and why. And, of course, as was also noted in the readout but let me just reiterate, he also conveyed and described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia. But again, I’m not going to provide any additional assessment from here,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday.
Did China Know?
There have been some indications that the Chinese government knew to some level about Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine. To be sure, the Kremlin wouldn’t have divulged the full extent of its plans to Beijing—after all, almost every Russian soldier who deployed to Ukraine didn’t know about the invasion until either a few hours before it started or, in some cases, while it was unfolding.
But as a close ally of Moscow, it is reasonable, and even expected, for Beijing to have received some sort of a heads up by the Kremlin. Most likely, that warning would have been more limited in nature, for example, the advance of Russian troops in the pro-Russian separatist territories in Donbas and Luhansk.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.