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Chinese official calls Putin ‘crazy’, Beijing still backs Russia

Chinese official calls Putin ‘crazy’, Beijing still backs Russia


  • Several Chinese officials have tried to distance themselves from Putin and the war in Ukraine, FT reported.
  • An expert told Insider China he may be trying to manage his relationship with the West.
  • China has not officially endorsed the war but continues to buy Russian energy and other exports.

While much of the world condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and instituted crippling sanctions against the country, China helped fund the Kremlin’s war effort.

This week, after several unnamed Chinese officials tore Putin apart in comments made to The Financial Timessome have suggested that another of Putin’s allies is turning against him but despite criticism, China has backed Russia.

“China may be trying to have it both ways,” Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, told Insider. He said the key was for China to “appear” to criticize Russia, “but what about their actions?”

China may be trying to distance itself from the war in Ukraine without taking meaningful steps to discourage Putin’s efforts to better manage its own relations with the West, according to English.

“The war benefits Beijing because it distracts the West from confrontation with China and they also benefit from discounted energy imports from Russia, which they both want to continue,” he said. Explain. “But they don’t want trade relations with Europe to suffer, so they have to appear criticize Russia.”

Twenty days before the February invasion, Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared the the relationship between the two countries had “no limits”. Since the invasion, China has served as a key trading partner for Russia, refusing to institute sanctions and continuing to buy Russian energy. As Western nations cut ties with Russia, trade with China has been a lifeline for the Kremlin, helping fund its war effort.

In August, Chinese imports from Russia jumped nearly 60% from a year earlier, while exports to Russia rose 26%, Reuters reported, citing customs data. The increase in imports was partly explained by a 22% increase in oil imports, as was European countries have drawn up a strategy to move away from Russian energy products.

China has also largely refrained from publicly condemning the war, even blame NATO for pushing the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to its “breaking point”. When the UN Security Council voted in September to condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories as illegal, China abstained. And in December, Chinese Foreign Minister said the country would “deepen strategic mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation” with Russia.

But there have been hints that Beijing is unhappy with the situation in Ukraine. At a meeting in September, Putin acknowledged that Xi had “questions and concerns” about the war. And in the FT report released this week, several Chinese officials tried to steer China away from invading Ukraine, even directly expressing their distrust of Putin.

“Putin is crazy,” an unnamed Chinese official told FT. “The decision to invade was made by a very small group of people. China shouldn’t just follow Russia.”

Still, English suspects the criticism could simply boil down to China strategically protecting its own interests, without taking tangible steps to end the fighting.

“Their economic support for Russia has not wavered, nor have they changed their official stance blaming NATO for the conflict,” he said. “I’m afraid some analysts are thinking with their hearts, not their heads. We want to see Russia’s influence drastically reduced, so we look for signs of weakness and sometimes exaggerate them.”

Although reports suggested Putin could lose the support of his allies, English was skeptical.

“Putin’s allies are not ‘turning on him’, they are only expressing their displeasure at the difficulties his war in Ukraine is causing them,” he said. “There is a big difference.”




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