What is China’s role in the Russo-Ukraine War?

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Before delving into China’s role in the Russo-Ukraine war, let’s first discuss the US intelligence community’s annual threat assessment report, released on February 6. The report suggests that major challenges will arise from Russia, China, Ukraine, and the West. The Russo-Ukraine war has ignited global concerns, with the International Criminal Court attributing war crimes to Putin, leading to scrutiny from Europe and the United States. Despite being formidable global competitors, Russia and China share a complex relationship, necessitating bilateral ties even amidst conflicts, particularly in trade. This relationship helps them avoid entanglement with the West and Europe, as binding agreements could limit their actions.


Examining China’s role in the Russo-Ukraine war, questions arise about China’s stance—support for Ukraine or Russia—and the evolution of Russo-Ukrainian relations. With ongoing trade between China and Russia, it’s crucial to understand the motivations behind China’s leader’s visit to Russia and the discussions between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.


What is China’s role in the Russo-Ukraine War? Does China support Ukraine or Russia? How was the relationship between Ukraine and China before and after the war? Does China still trade with Russia?  Why did China’s leader pay a visit to Russia? What did Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping discuss? What message did they give to the world?


Let’s answer these questions one by one and try to analyze them.


As the West condemns Russia and protests the war from the human and global perspective and recognizes the war as an ‘invasion’; China, on the other hand, needs Russia and Russia needs China. Before all, China wants its role to be a meditator and with their conflict of interests, China wants to be both dominant and have great interests in both parties.


From the perspective of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – whose ultimate goal is global economic, ideological, and military dominance – this is a necessary step for China.


While the West condemns Russia for the war, China seeks to mediate and maintain dominance, aligning with its global economic, ideological, and military aspirations. China recognizes the potential losses for Russia in the conflict and aims to play a diplomatic role in the war’s resolution. The economic ties between China and Ukraine were robust before the invasion, making China a significant player in the region. Ukraine, understanding China’s economic clout, may consider China’s assistance in rebuilding the nation. China’s strategy involves positioning itself as a mediator, using economic incentives rather than questioning the conflict’s morality.


China is focused on spearheading diplomatic breakthroughs in the Russia-Ukraine war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Iran-Saudi proxy conflict.


Diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already been restored, as of March 10, following China’s mediation. However, in the Russo-Ukraine War, it won’t be easy.


In contrast, Western nations imposed strict sanctions on Russia, impacting oil and hi-tech exports. China’s economic relations with Ukraine before last year’s Russian invasion were remarkably strong. Chinese investors and the Ukrainian government signed several cooperation agreements (including for the manufacture of aircraft engines) between 2017 and 2019. China overtook Russia as Ukraine’s top trading partner in 2019. Despite this, China’s trade with Russia surged in 2022, reaching $190 billion, an increase of nearly 80 percent since 2013. This relationship is crucial for Russia, given the decline in trade with Western countries due to sanctions.


And, in the first 11 months of 2021, the value of new contracts signed by Chinese companies in Ukraine approached $7 billion. During 2020 and 2021, Ukraine and China signed several agreements to strengthen cooperation in infrastructure financing and construction.


Ukraine imports machinery, equipment, and various consumer goods from China, while China imports minerals, corn, sunflower oil, and key components such as aircraft engines and missile parts from Ukraine.[1]


As China knows, Ukraine understands that fighting Russia and preparing for economic reconstruction must be done simultaneously and that no country can match China’s economic volume. That means China can make an offer that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cannot refuse. Zelenskyy will not refuse China’s economic assistance; his goal is to unite all the forces that can be united, except Putin’s Russia.


In light of this understanding, China will seek to induce Ukraine to recognize and even embrace Beijing’s primary role as a mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian War. Rather than questioning values (who is right or wrong in the conflict), China is simply using an economic “carrot and stick” approach.[2]


On the other hand, Western nations imposed strict sanctions on Russia – banning imports of oil and exports of hi-tech products. Many Western firms cut their connections with Russia entirely.


China’s overall trade with Russia hit a record high level of $190bn in 2022 – a 30% increase on the year before. Russian imports from China increased by 13% to $76bn and its exports to China increased by 43% to $114bn. As Russia’s trade with Western countries plunged in 2022, China became, by far and away, its most important trading partner.

Almost half of all the Russian government’s annual revenues come from oil and gas, and its sales to EU countries have plummeted over the past year as sanctions bite.


Russia exported twice as much liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to China in 2022 than it did the year before. It also delivered 50% more natural gas via the Power of Siberia pipeline, and 10% more crude oil. The G7 group of economically developed countries, along with the European Union and Australia, has tried to impose a worldwide cap on the price of Russian oil transported by sea, but China has refused to comply and buys Russian crude at market prices. The two countries have agreed to build a new gas pipeline (the Power of Siberia 2). The existing one began operation in 2019, under a 30-year contract worth more than $400bn.[3]


It has been 1 year since February 24, 2022, when the Russo-Ukraine war broke out. When we analyze 1st anniversary of the Ukraine War, the two leaders -Putin and Biden made very different statements regarding the war. And, both leaders blamed each other. Putin referred to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine as a means of protecting its national interests and the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. He specifically emphasized Russian ethnicity and its importance many times. He also expressed opposition to Ukraine’s NATO membership and warned that Russia would take measures against it. Biden, on the other hand, condemned Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and emphasized its violations of international law, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also expressed support for Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.


The differences between Putin’s and Biden’s positions are clear. Putin is against Ukraine’s NATO membership, while Biden supports it. Additionally, Putin emphasizes the protection of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, while Biden emphasizes Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.


I would like to point out what might be the negotiation options and ways in a bit but elaborating further on the topic, the world knows that the war or the conflict (whatever you would like to call it) in Ukraine, has been ongoing for several years, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 being a key trigger. Since then, there have been several rounds of fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists, resulting in thousands of deaths and displacement of civilians.


The war has also strained the relationship between Russia and the West, with the United States and European Union imposing economic sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. The situation has fueled tensions and mistrust between Russia and the West, making it difficult to find a peaceful solution to the war.


Overall, the war in Ukraine remains a complex and challenging issue, and finding a peaceful solution will require a concerted effort by all parties involved.


Because Diplomacy and dialogue will be key to resolving the conflict, in March, Chinese leader Xi Jinping paid a visit to Russia and met the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Both leaders said that this war will shape the entire world into a New World Order. In the assessment, it also has been repeatedly mentioned how this war will reshape the world’s orders.


So, lastly, let’s take a look at the meeting. What did Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping discuss? What message did they give to the world?


The Washington Post has written “A strong China is bolstering a weak Russia.”, “The showy meetings in Moscow this week between the two countries’ leaders.”,  “The Chinese aren’t providing weapons (yet), but Xi certainly offered moral and psychological support in what might be described as a get-well visit to an ailing relative. White House spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday rightly called Putin a “junior partner.”


The leaders discussed possible arms deliveries, military cooperation, and major defense projects.

“Our energy interaction is expanding,” said Putin and he continued “Russia supplies oil, gas, and coal. According to the schedule, a nuclear power facility is being built. The total volume of gas supplies by 2030 will be 98 billion cubic meters plus 100 million tons of liquefied gas,” announced in his opening speech.


He noted that the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline alone would allow the pumping of 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year. – National currencies are increasingly used in mutual trade, this practice should be further encouraged, as well as the mutual presence of financial and banking structures in the markets of our countries should be expanded. Already two-thirds of the trade turnover between our countries is carried out in rubles and yuan. We are for the use of Chinese yuan in settlements between Russia and the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. I am sure that these forms of settlements in yuan will be developed between Russian partners and their counterparts in third countries, the head of the country added.


“Russia is rapidly achieving its national development goals up to 2030,” President Xi said in turn.




The program ended with lunch at the Faceted Chamber. And, that was not an ordinary place!


“Receptions in the Faceted Chamber are held quite rarely. The fact that this place was chosen for the sake of Xi Jinping’s arrival speaks of the highest level of reception and respect,” Sergey Ordzhonikidze, the former UN Deputy Secretary General and former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia told.


The chamber lined with white faceted stone was built under Tsar Ivan III. There used to be a throne room here. Here the kings received congratulations after the coronation. The last Zemsky Sobor of 1653 gathered here, after which Ukraine became part of the Muscovite state.


Ivan the Terrible feasted in the Palace of the Facets on the occasion of the capture of Kazan, Peter I celebrated the victory at Poltava here … And on June 25, 1945, a solemn reception was held in this hall in honor of the participants in the Victory Parade. In the 90s, Boris Yeltsin treated Queen Elizabeth II of England here.


At the reception, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised a toast to the health of Xi Jinping and members of the Chinese delegation, the strengthening of partnership, and the prosperity of Russia and China. The head of the Russian state noted that Moscow and Beijing had outlined “daring goals and tasks for the future, in a good sense.” In turn, the Chinese leader expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the warm welcome and added that Russia and China are an example of great power relations.


The visit was considered a State, Official, Work, and private visit by the Russian media.


In summary, China’s role in the Russo-Ukraine war is multifaceted, involving diplomatic mediation, economic influence, and strategic partnerships. The evolving dynamics between China, Russia, and Ukraine underscore the intricate balance of power and economic considerations in shaping global geopolitics.











Written by: Seda Karakaya


 * The ideas in the articles belong to the author and may not reflect the editorial policy of the Divan Research and Education Association.


[1] https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/explaining-chinas-diplomatic-strategy-on-ukraine/


[2] https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/explaining-chinas-diplomatic-strategy-on-ukraine/


[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/60571253


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