The Chinese government has previously backed Moscow’s narrative opposing the expansion of the NATO military alliance, which has been one of the Russian leader’s key justifications for the invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has long accused NATO members of using the alliance to undermine Russia and demanded the group reverse its expansion eastward shortly before he launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Deposing the Ukrainian government and ending its desire to join the Western defensive alliance was one of the Russian leader’s initial stated aims of the country’s “special military operation”.
In a joint statement released by President Putin and Chinese premier Xi Jinping ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the two leaders accused NATO of espousing a Cold War ideology.
It stopped short of naming Ukraine, despite 100,000 Russian troops already being stationed at the border of the country and Putin having repeatedly demanded Ukraine be barred from joining NATO.
As the conflict in Ukraine nears its third month, Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, has seemingly repeated the anti-NATO narrative.
Mr Lijian tweeted on Tuesday: “’Not an inch of NATO’S present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.’” – Memorandum of conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow, 9 Feb 9 1990.”
Mr Lijian accompanied the tweet with an infographic comparing NATO membership in 1990, ahead of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, to the present day.
The maps highlighted countries that had since joined NATO such as Germany, Poland and Romania.
The images also highlighted countries that are “asking for NATO membership” and “considering NATO membership”, including Ukraine.
The Chinese government has refused to openly condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine beyond calling reports of Russian human rights violations in the country as “disturbing”, drawing condemnation from Western powers.
Responding to the tweet, Samuel Map, an expert on Russian foreign policy, tweeted: “China is backing Russia’s NATO expansion narratives again.”
Putin has repeatedly accused the 30-member defensive alliance of trying to split society in Russia and views the West as having broken its promise not to expand “an inch to the east”.
As he prepared to invade Ukraine in February, he tore up an unfulfilled 2015 Minsk peace deal and accused NATO of threatening “our historic future as a nation”, claiming without foundation that NATO countries wanted to bring war to Crimea.
Ahead of the invasion, the Russian leader demanded NATO remove its forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance from 1997 and not to deploy “strike weapons near Russia’s borders”, meaning Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
Putin also repeated his demands that NATO never allows Ukraine to join the alliance, which has been a priority for the country since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Launching the invasion on 24 February, he told the Russian people that his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine”, and refused to call it an invasion or a war.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of freeing Ukraine from oppression while foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin argued that “Russia’s future and its future place in the world are at stake”.
Volodymyr Zelensky had already responded to Russia’s anger over Nato by accepting Ukraine would not be admitted as a member.
He said the end to Ukraine’s bid to join NATO was “a truth and it must be recognised”.
Despite President Zelensky dropping Ukraine’s aim to join the alliance, Putin has persistently accused NATO of using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against Russia.