Chris Lange, FISM News
Chinese President Xi Jinping may have convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin not to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine when the two met in the spring.
The Financial Times reported that Xi personally warned Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine during the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow in March 2023. The publication cited a senior Biden administration official, a senior advisor to the CCP, and sources close to the Kremlin as having confirmed that the discussion took place.
If the report is true, it would lend credence to Beijing’s public assertions that the CCP opposes any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, also referenced in China’s proposed peace plan to end the conflict now crawling into its 17th month. It would also give veracity to claims by Chinese officials that they have been successful in convincing Putin to stop making veiled threats of nuclear warfare.
A senior U.S. administration official told the outlet that “the Chinese are taking credit for sending the message at every level.”
Ahead of Xi’s trip to Moscow, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrel said that the Chinese president’s meeting with Putin “reduces the risk of nuclear war” and that Beijing “made it very, very clear” that China opposes the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
One Western security official told the outlet that Russia’s use of nuclear weapons would be “all downside for China,” in terms of Xi’s efforts to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe and expand the CCP’s global influence.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Beijing has been broadcasting its purported role in preventing Putin from making good on his threats. Sources close to the Kremlin, however, assert that Putin’s decision not to use tactical weapons was made independently.
Ukraine and its allies have kept a watchful eye on China after Putin and Xi announced their “no limits partnership” days before the February 2022 invasion. Beijing has publicly expressed neutrality in the Ukraine conflict while providing Moscow with political and economic cover that has been critical to Russia’s ability to withstand punishing economic sanctions from the West. In the days leading up to the March meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Xi of planning to supply Russia with lethal weapons. If Putin expected the same, he was most certainly disappointed.
In recent months, fissures have begun to appear in the relationship forged by the leaders’ mutual disdain for the West – particularly, the United States. Certainly, the relationship between Xi and Putin appears to have benefitted Russia far more than it has China, at least in the short term. Russia’s inability to make significant gains in the war, coupled with the recent aborted Wagner mutiny, belies the Kremlin’s repeated assertions that all is going according to plan in its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
While observers and analysts continue to speculate about the relationship between the two leaders and how it will impact the war in Europe, Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, noted that “[n]uclear weapons are the ultimate insurance Putin has against losing this war catastrophically.”