The war in Ukraine has resulted from the US ‘fanning the flames’ for maintaining its global hegemony. Though Chinese scholars are sympathetic towards the Ukrainian people, they accuse Volodymyr Zelenskyy of ruining his country.

The war in Ukraine has entered its seventh week and cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol are in ruins, yet there is no end to it in sight. Although, Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, announced on 25 March that the “first stage of military operation” in Ukraine was complete and the next goal was the “complete liberation of Donbas,” but he also said that the operation will continue as long as all goals are achieved. China, the “no limits” partner of Russia, has not only declined to condemn the Russian invasion, but has also amplified Russian narrative in its media. Why has China taken such a position?

Chinese scholars are of the view that the Ukrainian crisis has resulted from a number of civilizational and geopolitical reasons accumulated over the years, but the United States is the biggest culprit. The most direct cause of Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to Zhang Weiwei, professor of international relations at Fudan University, is the continuous eastward expansion of NATO led by the United States, ignoring Russia’s legitimate security concerns. This view has also been echoed by China’s official discourse on the issue, for example, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference on 1 April in Beijing that “As the ‘main culprit’ (始作俑者) and ‘biggest instigator’ (最大推手) of the Ukraine crisis, the US has led NATO to engage in five rounds of eastward expansion in the last two decades after 1999. The number of NATO members increased from 16 to 30, and they have moved eastward more than 1,000 kilometres to somewhere near the Russian border, pushing Russia to the wall step by step.” China’s Xinhua News Agency in a commentary on 2 April echoed a similar position, noting that “the US and NATO repeatedly challenged Russia’s strategic bottom line (战略底线) and used Ukraine as a tool” (抓手) to contain Russia, which naturally won’t be acceptable to Russia. The war in Ukraine has resulted from the US “fanning the flames” (添柴加薪) for the sake of maintaining its global hegemony.

Though they are sympathetic towards the Ukrainian people, but squarely put the blame on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zhang Weiwei has accused him of ruining his country and throwing people in the abyss of misery. Jin Canrong, professor and associate dean with the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, calls it Ukraine playing the “小清新” (little fresh) and deems the leadership incompetent in governing the country, for it became a willing pawn of the US, rather than making its own foreign policy choices. For Russia, it was the choice between “to be or not to be”; if not now, maybe after two years or so, Ukraine would be a part of NATO, according to Zhang Weiwei.

The Ukraine crisis, to China, is not a conflict of interests between Russia and Ukraine, but the US expansion of its hegemony. Since China sees US hegemony as the “trigger” (导火索) for wars and the biggest “source of turmoil” (动荡源) in the world, it ought to be opposed tooth and nail. Zhang Weiwei argues that in order to maintain hegemony, the US has adopted Halford Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory” supported by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish origin national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in place of George Kennan and Hennery Kissinger’s warnings that Ukraine, rather than choosing sides between the East and the West should be a “bridge between them.” Mackinder, in the beginning of the 20th century had said that “who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; and who rules the World-Island commands the world.” Therefore, according to Zhang Weiwei, President Putin’s aim of this “special military operation” in Ukraine is also to “subvert” (颠覆) the “unipolar hegemonic international order” (单极霸权主义的国际秩序) of the US.

Since China’s position on global governance resonates the Russian position, hence, China sees Russia as a “promoter” of fundamental global change. Ukraine’s de-militarization, de-Nazification and neutralization essentially achieve that goal and establish Russia as an important pole in the new “post American era” (后美国时代). This conforms to China’s advocacy of the “rise of the East and decline of the West” (东升西降) paradigm, justification for the “Belt and Road Initiative” and “building community of shared future for the mankind.” Economically too, whether Russia achieves all its goals in Ukraine or not, sanctions from the West, according to the Chinese scholars, will not cripple Russia. Moreover, these have been solely imposed by the West, not all the countries; in fact, there are many countries who do not support such sanctions, argue the scholars. Rather, these in the long run, will achieve another objective of weakening the petro-dollar, as more and more countries find ways out to evade dependence on the US dollar. Ideologically, it is also “a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force” as pointed out by President Biden in Warsaw on 26 March. China, obviously finds it problematic. China has all along opposed the “colour revolutions” and decried them as a tool to interfere in internal affairs of other countries, subvert governments through “non-violent revolutions” in order to reinforce the US’ global hegemony. From this perspective, China too finds itself by the side of Russia.

Finally, the scholars draw a few conclusions from the ongoing conflict. According to Jin Canrong, Ukraine in this conflict is the biggest loser, Russia will gain some and lose some. But for China, since the entire focus will be on Russia for a considerable period of time, this will ease up some “strategic pressure” (战略压力). China could mediate in the crisis, as has been asked by various countries, but it is totally upon China whether it deems the mediation appropriate or not. Two, China-Russia relations are bound to be more intimate, and if the West threatens China with sanctions, the most populous country with the largest consumer, investment and trading market will render them ineffective, posits Zhang Weiwei. Three, it has emerged that there are only three countries—China, the US and Russia having exhibited “strategic autonomy.” The EU has lost it, Japan has none, and India is on shaky ground according to them. Four, the creation of an international platform to disseminate information is deemed crucial, one sided narrative originating from the war is too obvious for anyone to see. Nonetheless, Zhang Weiwei is also of the view that as long as strategic objectives are realized, who cares for the public opinion warfare (舆论战); of course, China must be prepared for it, he cautions. Finally, he also draws attention of China’s “public intellectuals” (公知) who have reposed their faith in the western model that they should not fall for the logic of that model, for once you fall for it, there would be no retreat. Therefore, even if Ukraine and Russia are able to ink a peace deal, it would be extremely difficult to execute it.


B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.