Chinese leader Xi Jinping personally warned Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
He did so during a state visit to Moscow in March of this year, according to Financial Times sources among Western and Chinese officials.
“The Chinese take credit for sending the message at all levels”, said a senior U.S. administration official.
At the same time, according to a Western intelligence official, Putin was left disappointed by Xi Jinping’s visit because it did not bring any benefits to Russia. The Chinese leader refused to sign the agreement on the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline, but could insist on condemning the use of nuclear weapons in a joint communiqué.
If Russia uses nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, “it will all turn out to be a disadvantage for China”, one official explained. Such a development could turn the EU against Beijing, while China’s constant pressure on Moscow on this issue helps improve relations with Europe.
In particular, after Xi’s trip to Moscow, European diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said that it “reduces the risk of nuclear war, and they [the Chinese] have made that very, very clear”.
“Russia has never received and will never receive Chinese approval to use nuclear weapons”, said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. According to him, if Putin uses them against Ukraine, “China will distance itself even more from Russia”.
For his part, Putin assured last October that a tactical nuclear strike against Ukraine made no “political or military sense”. According to sources close to the Kremlin, the Russian leader himself came to this conclusion after a simulation of the use of nuclear weapons, which could show that the captured Ukrainian territories would then turn into an irradiated wasteland, but it would not help Russian troops advance in any way.
Meanwhile, Kyiv warns that Russia could instead provoke an accident at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the largest plant in Europe, which the Russian army seized in March 2022.
After Ukraine launched a counterattack, Putin announced the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, but stipulated that there was “no need” to use them because Russian troops were deterring the AFU offensive.
However, the statement indicated that even China might not be able to deter Putin, said Aleksandr Gabuyev, director of the Carnegie Eurasia Center in Russia. “Nuclear weapons are Putin’s ultimate insurance against catastrophic defeat in this war”, he explained.