WASHINGTON (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Russia asked China to give it military equipment and support for the war in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin began a full-scale invasion last month, according to US officials.
Russia has also asked China for additional economic assistance, to help counteract the battering its economy has taken from broad sanctions imposed by the United States and European and Asian nations, according to an official.
US officials, determined to keep secret their means of collecting the intelligence on Russia's requests, declined to describe further the kind of military equipment Moscow is seeking.
The officials also declined to discuss any reaction by China to the requests.
Asked about Russia’s request for military aid, first reported by the Financial Times, Liu Pengyu, spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, said: “I’ve never heard of that.”
He said China found the current situation in Ukraine “disconcerting” and added: “We support and encourage all efforts that are conducive to a peaceful settlement of the crisis.”
Liu said “utmost efforts should be made to support Russia and Ukraine in carrying forward negotiations despite the difficult situation to produce a peaceful outcome.”
At a regular Chinese foreign ministry briefing in Beijing on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has strengthened a partnership with Putin and has stood by him as Russia has stepped up its military campaign, destroying cities in Ukraine and killing hundreds or thousands of civilians.
US officials are watching China closely to see whether it will act on any requests of aid from Russia.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan is scheduled to meet Monday (March 14) in Rome with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's elite Politburo and director of the party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission.
Sullivan intends to warn Yang about any future Chinese efforts to bolster Russia in its war or undercut Ukraine, the United States and their partners.
"We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them," Sullivan said on CNN 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," he said.
Sullivan did not make any explicit mention of potential military support from China, but other US officials spoke about the request from Russia on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of diplomatic and intelligence matters.
The Biden administration is hoping to persuade the Chinese to pressure Putin to change his course in Ukraine, something many current and former officials believe is unlikely.
But some in the administration believe it could be possible to dissuade China from stepping up its assistance to Moscow. Beijing may be content to offer rhetorical support for Moscow, and not want to involve itself further on Russia's side by providing military equipment to assist in the invasion of Ukraine.