‘Signs’ Putin has requested lethal weapons from China, Nato chief says

China appears to be mulling arms supplies to Russia, Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned as Xi Jinping discussed Beijing’s peace plan for Ukraine with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

“We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

He said China should not provide weapons that could be used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as “that would be to support an illegal war.” He added that arms supplies would prolong the conflict.

Western intelligence has previously suggested Moscow was running low on certain munitions such as artillery shells. Last month, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia had lost more than half of its modern battle tanks since the invasion.

Unlike Ukraine, Russia has not been able to draw on a large coalition of allies to replenish its supplies, though Iran has stepped to up to provide drones and missiles.

The Nato secretary general’s warning came as Mr Xi, the Chinese president, was on his second day of a three-day trip to Moscow on Tuesday. Mr Stoltenberg also announced that he would call Nato representatives for a high-level meeting on Ukraine next month.

Xi and Putin in the Kremlin on Tuesday (AP)
Xi and Putin in the Kremlin on Tuesday (AP)

The Kremlin said Mr Xi and his Russian counterpart had a “thorough” exchange of views and had discussed China’s peace plan for Ukraine, without elaborating.

Mr Xi is the first world leader to meet Mr Putin since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on Friday over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia since the start of the war last February.

Lat month, as Mr Xi prepared to publish his 12-point plan for de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine, the US first aired fears that China was considering giving arms to Russia, prompting Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, to warn the Chinese ambassador to Washington against any such supplies.

Washington officials said they believe China may already be providing some surveillance information to the Wagner group, the mercenary army that works alongside Russian forces.

Stoltenberg warned China against arms supplies at a press conference in Brussels (AFP/Getty)
Stoltenberg warned China against arms supplies at a press conference in Brussels (AFP/Getty)

Beijing insists it is a neutral broker that is pushing for peace in Ukraine but critics have pointed to China‘s closeness to Moscow, particularly in relations between Mr Xi and Mr Putin, who, when meeting on Monday, called one another “dear friend”.

A surprise visit by Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv on Tuesday highlighted China’s alignment with Russia. Japan, a regional rival of China with a more Western outlook, is particularly concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have conducted joint military exercises near its coasts.

As Mr Kishida headed to Kyiv, Russian warplanes were sent over neutral territory in the Sea of Japan.