top of page

The Responses of US and China towards the Russia-Ukraine War: An Overview


A residential building destroyed by shelling in the settlement of Borodyanka in the Kyiv region, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. (via CBS News)

Throughout the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US and China have displayed conflicting attitudes. In response to Russia's military engagement in Ukraine, beginning on February 24, the US expressed strong opposition to the war by leveraging severe sanctions. China, on the other hand, had an ambiguous response that neither advocated for nor condemned the war. At the March 2 UN General Assembly meeting, the US voted to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine while China abstained. The American and Chinese responses are not only important to how the war progresses, but it also impacts broader US-China relations as they find each other on different points of the spectrum. This disagreement could impact the possibilities of confrontation between the two countries and flare up other possible tensions.

Context of the Russia-Ukraine War:

The root cause of this conflict began with NATO’s eastward expansion after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. NATO was joined by Eastern European nations formerly in the Communist Sphere, including Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic states. This was perceived as a threat to Russia as NATO moved closer to Russian territory. The biggest flashpoint, though, was Moscow’s vehement opposition against Ukraine’s desire to join NATO. To Russia, Ukraine acted as a political and economic buffer zone separating it from the rest of Europe.

In a televised address on February 21, President Vladimir Putin argued that Ukraine was an “integral part of Russia’s history” and that eastern Ukraine was part of ancient Russian lands. Initially, for months, Putin denied that he would invade Ukraine. However, Russian troops were deployed near Ukraine, and Moscow recognized Donetsk and Luhansk– two separatist regions known collectively as the Donbas– increasing the possibility of Russia’s invasion. On February 24, after Putin declared that Russia couldn’t feel “safe, develop and exist” due to the constant threat from modern Ukraine, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion. Despite the two rounds of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, a cease-fire agreement has not been reached and the war continues on.

The United Nations General Assembly denounces Russian aggression in Ukraine by a vote of 141 to 5 with 35 abstentions on March 2nd, via Foreign Policy

Response of the US:

Before Russia declared war on Ukraine, President Joe Biden had expected Putin to invade Ukraine. The Biden administration threatened to enact a series of sanctions towards Russia if the invasion took place. After Russia violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, the US did not deploy troops to directly engage in Ukraine but went ahead with two main strategies: isolating Russia and launching an “economic war” through sanctions.

Recently in his State of the Union address on March 1, Biden emphasized the reinvigorated Western alliance, leaving Putin “isolated in the world more than he has ever been”. This isolation is shown in the votes of the UN General Assembly regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine– of the 190 countries, 141 countries condemned the invasion. The Western countries were especially united in their response, supplying Ukraine with weapons and together imposing the toughest economic sanctions ever introduced on a country. These sanctions included cutting off Russia’s access to technology and the global financial system, such as removing selected banks from the Swift messaging system and blocking Russia’s largest banks from the US financial system. The West also targeted specific individuals, including the “oligarchs,” and put export controls on certain technology. As a result, Russia’s ruble fell 30% against the US dollar, delaying payments of exports of oil and gas to Russia and leading Russia to double its interest rate. Analysts expect these sanctions to continue being strengthened, such as adding more technology subject to control. However there are exceptions to these sanctions, such as energy. Russia is a major global oil and gas supplier. A hit on energy could cause a sudden increase in energy prices that can cause economic damage around the world, especially European countries.

On an ideological level, this war is also a conflict between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Therefore, to fight Russia is to fight autocracy and defend the values of democracy. Regarding this aspect, President Biden had declared in his State of the Union address that “In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.”

Response of China:

Before the war occurred, China was considered a possible “lifeline” for Russia when it faced economic sanctions from the West. China had denied that Russia possessed the will to invade Ukraine. In fact, on February 4, President Xi Jinping and Putin met in Beijing and announced that their partnership had “no limits.” The two leaders backed each other up regarding the tensions on Ukraine and Taiwan, promising to increase collaboration against the West. However, after the war broke out, China was caught between Russia and the West, neither condemning the invasion nor giving its full support to Russia.

Currently, China continues to adhere to its non-interference in foreign affairs, most prominently illustrated by its abstention at the UN General Assembly. But, China is not actively supporting the war, as Beijing argues that Ukraine is no exception to its commitment to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. Beijing also offered on a few occasions to help Russia and Ukraine settle the conflict through diplomatic measures. However, this doesn’t mean that China is necessarily siding with the West, as seen in China’s refusal to use the word “invasion” when referring to Russia’s actions or criticizing Putin. Moreover, China blames the US and NATO for the war. China argued that the war could have been prevented had the Biden administration promised not to accept Ukraine as a NATO member, and that the NATO expansion was responsible for causing deteriorating relations with Russia.

Experts state that “China will do what it can to help when Russia is in economic and financial distress.” When President Putin enacted military actions, China lifted restrictions on Russian wheat imports, and the Russian-owned energy multinational corporation Gazprom signed a contract with China regarding a new natural gas pipeline. However, China is cautious about supporting Russia; not only could China’s attempts to create a global and economic footprint, such as Belt and Road Initiative projects in Ukraine, be threatened, but also it could be subjected to secondary sanctions. China is already impacted by Western sanctions, such as in the manufacturing and export sectors, and the US warned that China will face consequences if it helps Russia evade sanctions. China continues to walk a fine line between the West and Russia, saying that it neither supports Russia nor will it take part in imposing sanctions. There will be a need to focus on comments from the National People’s Congress for further implications.


The responses of the US and China towards the Russia-Ukraine war impact US-China relations by intensifying the confrontation between the West and China, impacting the US resource allocation in foreign policy and affecting other tensions such as Taiwan. With the coordination of American and European sanctions against Russia, the possibility of the West’s resolve to compete geopolitically with a rising China could become stronger. Moreover, China’s future tactics regarding the war could significantly impact the confrontation between China, Russia, and the West. The current debate about whether China knew Russia’s plan for invasion beforehand would also contribute to the conflict. For the US, the threat posed by China and Russia are both serious, but it is very difficult for the US to choose which conflict to focus on. However, the military resources of the US are limited to fight the major wars at the same time while China and Russia are increasingly working together. Therefore, rising threats from Russia in the European area will impact how the US distributes and develops its resources regarding China in the Indo-Pacific area. Lastly, the citizens of Taiwan are worried that the next war would happen in their area by China which claims Taiwan should be under its rule. Although government officials and researchers emphasize differences between the situation of Ukraine and Taiwan, arguing that the possibility of war is low, there are growing concerns about how the current Russia-Ukraine war could impact other potential conflicts in the future.

As the Russia-Ukraine war continues on, the positions US and China take in their foreign policy would greatly impact how the war processes and also the future world order regarding the relationship between the West and China. There is a growing need to focus on China’s response regarding the confrontation and how the US reacts to it.

bottom of page