Ukraine Applies Subtle Pressure on China to Help End War With Russia

Ukraine has asked China to help bring a more amenable Russia to the negotiating table in a move that doesn't embarrass Beijing, but makes it clear it can and should do more.

Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, hailed bilateral relations with China, based on "mutual respect, understanding and benefit," in a tweet posted on Monday. The official didn't criticize or dismiss China's contributions thus far, but subtly challenged the Chinese leadership's assertion that it has played a "constructive role" in promoting dialogue.

"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," Kuleba wrote. It was only the second time Kyiv had directly addressed Beijing, after he spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on March 1 and came away with the seemingly overly optimistic conclusion: "China is ready to make efforts to end the war through diplomacy."

In the three weeks since, several rounds of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia have had mixed results. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, with millions fleeing the country and many more civilians trapped in a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe.

Addressing Parliaments

Kyiv has the ear of many in the West; in successive addresses to Western parliaments, Volodymyr Zelensky has been direct and targeted obvious pain points. This has included criticisms of the German government for what he sees as years of unmerited tolerance of Vladimir Putin. His cabinet's approach to Beijing, however, speaks to an acknowledgement of the sensitivity of the China-Russia relationship, and the strategic alignment Putin shares with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

Beijing has pledged a total of $2.3 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, a figure that, small though it may be, demonstrates a quiet willingness to help the people of Ukraine in spite of its open support for the Kremlin. Following U.S. intelligence disclosures, China has also denied allegations it was planning to provide Russia with material aid including military equipment and other wartime supplies.

Kyiv, it would seem, doesn't intend to publicly put Beijing in a more difficult position than it already is in, despite recognizing the political and economic leverage its leaders hold over Moscow. It's a diplomatic maneuver that, if not pursued with the utmost delicacy, could cause the Chinese leadership to lose face and completely walk away.

Still, Ukraine has seen enough to feel aggrieved in the year it marks three decades of formal relations with China. Beijing sided with Moscow against NATO long before the invasion began last month, and its state media has continued largely one-sided reporting about the war. Recently, Chinese officials peddled unsubstantiated claims about U.S.-funded biological weapons program in Ukraine, while also calling for an end to the West's transfer of defensive arms.

That frustration reached the surface last week after the Chinese foreign ministry contrasted America's supply of lethal aid with China's provision of baby formula, sleeping bags and blankets.

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, responded in a Facebook post: "The Foreign Ministry of China has recently spoken against the supply of the U.S. weapons to Ukraine, allegedly fearing that such supplies could increase civilian casualties.

"The spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Ukraine needed more food and sleeping bags. China says it has provided us with food, instant baby food, sleeping bags and blankets, as well as waterproof bedding.

"As a member of the Ukrainian Government, here is what I want to say to our Chinese friends: This is absolutely not serious and not worthy of the status of a great respectable country!

"What blankets are you talking about? The Russians are bombing residential areas of our cities. We need air defense systems to close the sky over our civilians. What waterproof bedding are you talking?

"I would suggest that the Chinese Foreign Ministry asks the opinion of 160 Chinese students, whom we evacuated out of the Russian shelling last week.

"We don't need blankets and bedding. We need weapons to defend our land. And we call on China to stop supporting those who bomb residential areas of the Ukrainian cities!"

The Chinese Foreign Ministry didn't return Newsweek's request for comment in time for publication.

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Ukraine Nudges China to Help End War
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the Ukrainian-Polish border crossing in Korczowa, Poland, on March 5, 2022. Kuleba asked China to step up its diplomatic efforts to help bring a more amenable Russia to the negotiating table, in a tweet addressed to Beijing on March 22, 2022. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images