The Kremlin has denied a report that the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, had personally warned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
“No, I can’t confirm it,” Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Wednesday when asked about a Financial Times report that said Xi delivered the message when he visited Moscow in March.
Peskov said the two countries had issued statements at the time on the content of their talks, calling all other reports about Xi’s state visit to Moscow “fiction”.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Xi has been unwavering in his support for his “dear friend” Putin, while Beijing has helped to prop up Russia’s sanctions-hit economy.
China has also repeatedly expressed publicly its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In November, Xi told the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, that the international community should oppose the threat or use of such weapons and “prevent a nuclear crisis in Eurasia”.
Xi reportedly made his nuclear warning to Putin while on his first foreign trip after securing a third term as president, suggesting China was concerned about the possibility that the war in Ukraine would escalate further.
Beijing earlier proposed a 12-point peace plan, urging all parties to avoid nuclear escalation but critically not suggesting Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
Some of Kyiv’s western allies have been sceptical of Beijing’s deterrence credentials given Xi’s “no limits” partnership with Putin.
Although the Chinese president has not explicitly endorsed the invasion, he has refused to condemn it and has echoed many of Russia’s justifications for the war, blaming the west for fuelling the conflict by supplying arms to Ukraine.
Since ordering his troops into Ukraine, Putin has occasionally issued veiled threats of using nuclear weapons against the country, warning the west last September he was not bluffing when he said Moscow would use “all available means to protect Russia and our people”.
Several Kremlin-linked analysts have also advocated for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Europe.
Putin has recently appeared to soften his nuclear rhetoric. Speaking at a conference in St Petersburg last month, he said there was “no need” to use nuclear weapons because the “existence of the Russia state was not threatened”.
He added that Moscow had delivered tactical warheads to Belarus, a move described by Nato on Sunday as “dangerous and irresponsible”.
According to the Financial Times report, Chinese officials have privately taken credit for convincing Putin to back down from his nuclear blackmail after Xi’s visit to Moscow in March.
Kyiv has warned that Russia may be planning to “simulate an attack” on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, claiming that Russian troops have placed “objects resembling explosives” on the roofs of buildings at the site.
Citing Ukrainian intelligence, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the objects had been positioned on the roof of several power units of the plant that is occupied by Russia.
Source: The Guardian