The request comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded his assault on Ukraine to the country’s west, killing 35 people in an attack on a military base not far from its border with Poland. But Russia has faced fiercer than expected resistance, particularly around Kyiv, and there is evidence the country is running low on weaponry, the Financial Times reported.
It’s unclear how China responded, and U.S. officials only spoke to the outlets on condition of anonymity to preserve Russian intelligence gathering efforts. Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C., said he’d “never heard” of the Russian request for support.
“The current situation in Ukraine is indeed disconcerting,” Pengyu said in a statement to The New York Times. “The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control.”
Russia and China are close political allies and Beijing has refused to condemn Putin’s invasion, instead saying it hoped for a negotiated end to the conflict. The Biden administration has increased diplomatic pressure on China in recent weeks, exchanging barbs about the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Beijing has said it blames the U.S. and the United Nations for the invasion.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, is set to travel to Rome on Monday to meet with a senior Chinese official and deliver warnings about any support Beijing may offer to Russia.
“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 said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “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.”
The Times notes that China has traditionally bought its military equipment from Russia, but Beijing has advanced missile and drone programs that could aid Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The paper, citing independent analysts, also added that there is evidence Russia may be running low on missile supplies.
The request comes amid a raft of harsh economic sanctions against Russia and the swift departure of many Western businesses from the country. The ruble collapsed in the days after the invasion began and the Kremlin has taken steps to limit foreign currency withdrawals and threatened to seize the assets of companies that leave.