Ukraine war: Ex-MI6 chief says only China can influence Putin

Ukraine war: Ex-MI6 chief says only China can influence Putin

March 16, 2022

‘Of all the people in the world that can talk sense to Putin, it’s Xi’: Ex-MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger says only China’s Xi Jinping can influence the Russian leader and stop Ukraine invasion

  • Ex-MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger said only Xi Jinping can influence Putin 
  • Beijing has not condemned the invasion nd abstained from UN vote last month 
  • Communist state walking a diplomatic tightrope to preserve Russian trade links  
  • But there are signs of growing Chinese frustration over Putin’s aggression 

Only China’s despot Xi Jinping can influence Putin and stop his ‘murderous’ war on Ukraine, the former head of MI6 has said.

Sir Alex Younger, former head of the Secret Intelligence Service from 2014 to 2020, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Of all the people in the world that can assert influence on Vladimir Putin, who is in his bunker and who is obsessed by achieving greatness through the restoration of the Russian Empire… of all the people that can talk sense to him, it’s Xi.

‘Vladimir Putin needs Xi and of course Xi while he feels he has to align himself at the high level with what Russia is doing because of their new alliance, must be deeply disturbed by what is going on.’

He added that the war in Ukraine is ‘seriously compounding the economic problems that China face’ and carries a ‘huge reputational risk’ for China if they continue to associate themselves with the ‘murderous activities in Ukraine’.

‘Putin does not have a reverse gear. He gambled,’ Sir Alex added.

‘He has hit extraordinary difficulties early on but he’s going to keep going and he has to, because he went into this war with a false premise, and he needs to be seen to be bringing something back from it.’

Moscow and Beijing have drawn closer in recent times, in what Washington sees as an increasingly hostile alliance of the authoritarian powers. Beijing has refused to condemn Putin’s war and abstained from a vote at the United Nations calling out Russian aggression last month.

China has walked a diplomatic tightrope since the start of the war on February 24 in order to preserve vital trade links with Russia which is now facing serious economic woes have being targeted by sanctions.

But in recent days, signs have emerged of growing Chinese frustration over the consequences of the war, with Beijing declaring it is ‘always opposed to using sanctions to solve problems’ because they ‘harm people’s livelihoods in all countries’.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin enter a hall for talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, June 5, 2019

Only China’s despot Xi Jinping can influence Putin and stop his ‘murderous’ war on Ukraine, the former head of MI6 Sir Alex Younger (pictured) has said 

Debris carpets the ground outside a ten-storey apartment block affected by a shelling that took place in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv, March 15, 2022

A Ukrainian serviceman guards his position in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 12, 2022

How China’s tone has changed on Ukraine

February 4

China ‘opposes further enlargement of NATO and calls on the [alliance] abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches’ – Beijing statement after Xi-Putin summit at Winter Olympics

February 23

US is ‘raising tensions, creating panic, and playing up the schedule of war’ – foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, a day before Russia invaded

February 24

‘Russia launched a special military operation in eastern Ukraine. Russia says its armed forces will not… strike cities. China… calls on all sides to exercise restraint’ – Hua Chunying, declining to call it an ‘invasion’ on the day Russia invaded

March 7

Beijing ‘laments’ the conflict and is ‘extremely concerned’ about civilian casualties, but relationship with Russia ‘rock solid’ – Foreign minister Wang Yi

March 11

‘We hope to see fighting and the war stop as soon as possible,’ Wang Yi, describing the conflict as a ‘war’ for the first time 

March 15

China ‘must not be affected’ by sanctions because it ‘is not party to the crisis’ – Wang Yi

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking during a phone call with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares on Tuesday, said that China ‘must not be affected’ by the West’s sanctions because the country ‘is not party to the crisis’.

China has ‘always opposed using sanctions to solve problems, let alone unilateral sanctions that has no basis in international law, which will… harm people’s livelihood in all countries’, Wang said.

Almost three weeks after Russian troops marched into Ukraine, Moscow’s forces have bombarded and besieged several towns and cities.

Fighting has killed thousands and destroyed infrastructure, as well as causing millions to flee the country.

Wang’s comments were published after a seven-hour meeting between high-ranking US and Chinese officials in Rome, at which Washington said the US had expressed concern about ‘alignment’ between Russia and China.

In the Rome meeting on Monday with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, China’s senior diplomat Yang Jiechi reiterated China’s stance that Beijing is ‘committed to promoting peace talks’, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

China called on all parties to exercise ‘maximum restraint’ and ‘protect civilians’ in the Ukraine crisis at the meeting.

The international community should support such talks to achieve substantive results as soon as possible, Yang said. Washington hopes Beijing can use its influence on Putin.

Although Beijing does not back Western sanctions, the White House is pressuring the world’s second-largest economy to refrain from rescuing Russia from potential default or sending weaponry.

US intelligence reports published Sunday claimed Moscow had requested military equipment from Beijing after Russian forces started ‘running out’ of weapons during their sluggish invasion of Ukraine.

China on Monday accused Washington of spreading ‘disinformation’ over Beijing’s role in the Ukraine war, without directly addressing US media reports of a Russian request for help.

Beijing has struggled to maintain a façade of neutrality and has repeatedly blamed the United States and NATO’s ‘eastward expansion’ for worsening tensions.

It is a view that reverberates across state newspapers and television – as well as social media – in China’s tightly controlled news environment.

When Putin announced an assault on Ukraine on February 24, China’s official Xinhua news agency maintained it was a ‘military operation’ and Moscow had ‘no intent’ of occupying Ukrainian territory.

Days later, state broadcaster CCTV echoed a false Russian claim that Volodymyr Zelensky had left Kyiv – a story quickly repeated by other domestic outlets.

And some Chinese reports also state that there has been a surge of ‘neo-Nazi’ ideology among the Ukrainian army and people, a claim supported by Putin.

A directive to a state-affiliated outlet, circulating online last month, appeared to instruct that posts unfavourable to Russia or containing pro-Western content should not be published.

State media reports on Ukraine avoid terms like ‘invasion’, instead describing the situation as a ‘conflict’ or ‘fighting’.

Neither Beijing nor New Delhi have condemned the invasion in Ukraine and both abstained from a vote at the United Nations calling out Russian aggression last month 

‘This is not a struggle to find the right message,’ Justyna Szczudlik, China analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told AFP.

‘China purposely uses very vague language,’ she added, noting that this was to reduce diplomatic risks in its relations with Western countries.

Officials, too, have rebuffed the term ‘invasion’ when questioned by foreign journalists – accusing them of biased reporting – while giving the contradictory statements that China respects every country’s sovereignty but won’t take sides.

A fierce condemnation of war at the opening of the Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing was not translated on Chinese TV.

Britain’s junior foreign office minister James Cleverly on Tuesday warned that Beijing should not support Russia over the invasion.

‘We continue to call upon China and indeed all countries to cease any support they may have to Russia,’ Cleverly told the BBC.

‘We want to build as broad a coalition of opposition to Russia as possible so of course we will have those conversations with the Chinese.’

India on Monday became the latest country to hand Russia a sanction-busting lifeline after the government indicated it may accept Moscow’s offer to buy oil and other commodities at a discount price.

Media outlets have also started explicitly pushing Russian conspiracy theories. ‘There is no smoke without fire,’ state-run tabloid Global Times wrote while repeating Russian claims that US-funded biological labs in Ukraine were experimenting with bat coronaviruses

Days later, state broadcaster CCTV echoed a false Russian claim that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had left Kyiv – a story quickly repeated by other domestic outlets 

‘Russia is offering oil and other commodities at a heavy discount. We will be happy to take that,’ an Indian government official said, declining to elaborate on how much oil was on offer and what the discount was.

The official added that such trade required preparatory work including transportation, insurance cover and getting the right blend of crude, but once that was done India would take Russia up on its offer.

India, which imports 80 per cent of its oil needs, usually buys only about 1 per cent from Russia. But with oil prices up 40 per cent so far this year, the government is looking at increasing this if it can help reduce its rising energy bill.

New Delhi, which has refused to condemn the Ukraine war, follows Beijing which last month lifted restrictions on wheat imports from Russia.

Imports had been restricted amid concerns over Russia’s measures to prevent plant diseases, particularly in agricultural crops.

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