US warns Chinese officials against supporting Russia

Aamer Madhani, Josh Boak
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Face to face, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser warned a top Chinese official on Monday about China’s support for Russia in the Ukrainian invasion, even as the Kremlin denied reports it had requested Chinese military equipment to use in the war.

U.S. adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned that China is using the Ukraine war to advance Beijing’s long-term interest in its competition with the United States.

Sullivan was seeking clarity on Beijing’s posture and was warning the Chinese anew that assistance for Russia — including helping it avert sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Western allies — would be costly for them.

“The national security adviser and our delegation raised directly and very clearly our concerns about the PRC’s support to Russia in the wake of the invasion, and the implications that any such support would have for the PRC’s relationship not only with us, but for its relationships around the world,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, using initials for the People’s Republic of China.

Military, financial support: Meanwhile, two administration officials said the U.S. had determined that China had signaled to Russia that it would be willing to provide both military support for the campaign in Ukraine and financial backing to help stave off the impact of severe sanctions. The officials said that assessment was relayed to Western and Asian allies and partners Monday.

“Moscow has received a positive response from Beijing,” said one official, describing a diplomatic cable sent to U.S. embassies asking for them to inform their host governments of the information. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sullivan made clear during an “intense” seven-hour meeting that the Biden administration has deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia at this time, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Psaki declined to comment on whether the U.S. believes China has already provided the Russians with military, economic or other assistance.

In advance of the talks, Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. “We will not allow that to go forward,” he said. Russia, however, on Monday denied it needed China’s help.

Possible trip to Europe: Meanwhile, White House officials are discussing the possibility of Biden traveling to Europe to meet with allies for in-person talks about the crisis in Ukraine, according to three U.S. officials. The officials, who were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the trip hasn’t been finalized. One possibility is a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 24 with other potential stops in Europe, according to one of the officials.

The prospect of China offering Russia financial help is one of several concerns for Biden. A U.S. official said that in recent days, Russia has requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, did not provide details on the scope of the request.

The Russians have seen significant losses of tanks, helicopters and other materiel since the start of the war more than two weeks ago. Ukraine, while overmatched by Russian forces, is well-equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Russia’s and China’s weapons systems have limited interoperability, and it’s not clear what weapons China has that Russia would be in short supply of.

The Biden administration is also accusing China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.

Delicate situation: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the U.S. and European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it also has shown support for Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with “no limits.”

Asked at a daily briefing about the reported Russian request for assistance, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “The U.S. has been spreading disinformation targeting China recently over the Ukraine issue. It is malicious.”

Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine was running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support. They say China is effectively providing cover if Russia moves ahead with a biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians.

When Russia starts accusing other countries of preparing to launch biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan said Sunday, “it’s a good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said “we haven’t seen anything that indicates some sort of imminent chemical or biological attack right now, but we’re watching this very, very closely.”

Zelenskyy to virtually address Congress

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver a virtual address to the U.S. Congress as the Russian war on his country intensifies.

Zelenskyy will speak Wednesday to members of the House and Senate, the Democratic leaders announced. The event will be livestreamed for the public.

“It’s such a privilege to have this leader of this country, where these people are fighting for their democracy and our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday during an event at the Brooklyn Bridge with New York lawmakers.

Pelosi said that Zelenskyy asked for the meeting when they spoke at the end of last week, and lawmakers are “thrilled” to have him address Congress.

The talk comes as the Ukrainians are fighting for their country’s survival in the escalating war as Russian President Vladimir Putin intensifies his assault, including airstrikes on the capital Kyiv. Civilians in Ukraine are taking up arms to hold back Putin’s regime, but the war has launched a mass exodus of more then 2 million people from Ukraine.

“The Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine,” said Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement Monday announcing the address.

They said all lawmakers are invited to the talk that will be delivered via video at the U.S. Capitol. It comes as Congress recently approved $13.6 billion in emergency military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Biden is expected to sign a big spending bill containing Ukraine aid into law on Tuesday. During Pelosi’s call last week, Zelenskyy said his country would need help rebuilding from the war.

“We have to do more in terms of meeting the needs of some of the

2.7 million refugees,” she said.

In their statement Monday, the congressional leaders said Congress “remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression.”

— The Associated Press