Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 21 July 2023

China complicit in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, says MI6 chief

Sir Richard Moore says Xi Jinping’s regime has supported Vladimir Putin diplomatically and amplified ‘Russian tropes’ such as Nato being to blame

The head of MI6 has accused China’s government and its leader, Xi Jinping, of being “absolutely complicit” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in a rare public address in Prague.

Sir Richard Moore, who has been chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service since 2020, also offered comment on the extraordinary mutiny in June by the mercenary Wagner group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi and Vladimir Putin signed a “no limits” partnership between their countries. After the war began, China’s government sought to present itself as a neutral peacemaker, and there have been signs of Xi’s dissatisfaction with events, but in practice Beijing refused to publicly censure or discourage Russia, and senior officials often expressed direct support.

“When Putin invaded Ukraine, the Chinese very clearly supported the Russians,” Moore said at the event hosted by Politico on Wednesday. “They have completely supported the Russians diplomatically, they’ve abstained in key votes at the United Nations, they’ve absolutely cynically repeated all the Russian tropes, particularly in places like Africa and Latin America – [by] blaming Nato and all of this stuff.”

Moore said MI6 now devoted more resources to China than any other mission, which “reflects China’s importance in the world and the crucial need to understand both the intent and capability of the Chinese government”.

His comments are likely to spark an angry response from Beijing, and follow a recent speech and essay by Bill Burns, in which the CIA director warned of Beijing’s “actions” accompanying its powerful rise: “Russia’s aggression poses a formidable test. But China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so.”

Moore said the balance of power between Russia and China had shifted in the latter’s favour, and this had hurt Putin’s prestige in Russia. Putin’s power had also been affected by the Wagner group revolt in June, Moore suggested.

“You don’t have a group of mercenaries advance up the motorway towards Moscow and get to within 125km of Moscow unless you have not quite predicted that was going to happen,” he said.

“Prigozhin was his creature, utterly created by Putin, and yet he turned on him.”

Moore said Putin “didn’t fight back” but used allied Belarus to “cut a deal” with Prigozhin. The Wagner group leader’s specific whereabouts have not been clear since he marched his troops against Putin, then called it off in return for no charges being laid against the mercenaries. The Kremlin has said Putin held lengthy meetings with Prigozhin – whom Putin had denounced as a traitor – and senior Wagner group commanders after the aborted coup.

“Prigozhin started off that day as a traitor at breakfast, he had been pardoned by supper, and then a few days later, he was invited for tea,” Moore told the Prague event.

“So, there are some things that even the chief of MI6 finds a little bit difficult to try and interpret, in terms of who’s in and who’s out.”

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