China Can End Russia’s War in Ukraine With One Phone Call, Finland Says

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s reliance on China has gotten to the point where Beijing could end the war in Ukraine if it chose to, Finnish President Alexander Stubb said.

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“Russia is so dependent on China right now,” Stubb, 56, said in an interview in Helsinki Tuesday. “One phone call from President Xi Jinping would solve this crisis.”

Stubb’s comments reflect the increasing frustration among Ukraine’s allies over China’s perceived support for Russia’s war effort. They accuse Beijing of providing the Kremlin with technologies and parts for weapons and helping Moscow to get around international trade restrictions.

“If he were to say, ‘Time to start negotiating peace,’ Russia would be forced to do that,” Stubb said. “They would have no other choice.”

China rebuffed the suggestion.

“Both China and Russia are independent major countries. China did not create the Ukraine crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “We will always stand on the side of peace and dialog, and maintain communication with relevant parties including Russia, and play a constructive role in the political settlement of the crisis.”

Xi has sought to portray China as a neutral actor in discussions over the war, with his government criticizing Russia over attacks on civilians and threats to use nuclear weapons. China opposes international sanctions on principle, saying it only respects penalties backed by the United Nations, and has accused the US and its allies of fueling the war by providing weapons to Ukraine.

China accounted for about 28% of Russia’s total trade last year, up from 19% in 2021, according to statistics compiled by Bloomberg. The European Union, by contrast, saw its share of Russian trade fall to 17% from 36% in that period.

Xi hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on May 16 and called for an international conference including both Russia and Ukraine to resolve what he described as “the Ukraine issue.”

Xi and Putin are expected to hold talks in Kazakhstan, where they’re taking part in a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit meeting that begins Wednesday in the capital Astana.

Finland’s new head of state was sworn in March 1 and previously served as prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister in the nation of 5.5 million. His predecessor Sauli Niinisto reached a constitutional term limit after 12 years in power.

Speaking at the gilded 19th century presidential palace — previously a residence of the Russian czar when Finland was part of his empire — Stubb said that China would stand to benefit from ending Putin’s “aggressive and colonial war” in Ukraine.

“It needs to protect the international rules which are linked to territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he said. “That is the right thing to do. And that would also show leadership from China.”

The European Union’s most Russia-friendly leader, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday that he’d asked Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to engage in talks with Russia and seek a quick cease-fire. The Finnish president disagreed.

“It’s out of the question to push for a cease-fire at the moment, there needs to be a genuine peace negotiation,” Stubb said. “The only thing that Russia understands is power. And therefore the more we can help Ukraine now, the faster we’ll get the war to end.”

Stubb also urged Europe to bolster its support to Ukraine while also building up its own defense capabilities in traditional military as well as against Russia’s hybrid warfare. Ukraine needs both material help — which includes financial assistance — and political support, including firming up a path toward a membership in both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to Stubb.

Europe needs to shift to a “wartime economy,” pooling orders for ammunition and weapons to give their defense industry a long-term perspective, he said. In addition to state funding, Stubb called for the European Investment Bank — where he was previously vice president — to move beyond its red lines and start being more “bullish” in financing military industry.

Something else Europe needs to do is create a playbook for how to counter hybrid attacks, the president said. That would entail both plans to get systems up and running after attacks, but also streamlining communications to present a unified front against the Kremlin.

Cyber attacks, GPS jamming, airspace violations and weaponized immigration comprise some forms of Russian hybrid warfare Finland has experienced just over the past months, alongside much of the other Eastern flank countries of NATO.

“What Russia tries to do with hybrid attacks is get us to overreact or react differently,” Stubb said, adding that attributing hybrid operations can also help put an end to them.

“If you deny it or keep it under the radar then I think Russia will just continue doing it.”

With more than 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of border, Finland guards half of NATO’s demarcation against its main adversary, and has a fraught history of co-existence with Russia.

Having won independence in 1917 after more than 100 years as a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, Finns fought two wars with the Soviet Union, ceding parts of their territory in 1944. Finland then tiptoed through an era of neutrality during the Cold War — by necessity, not by choice — deferring to Moscow while retaining independence in a policy that came to be known as Finlandization.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nordic country immediately sought entry into the European fold in Sweden’s wake, with the two joining the EU in 1995. Until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finnish policymakers almost never identified Russia — at least publicly — as the primary military threat. In April 2023, Finland joined NATO.

Geared for survival, the Nordic country has always remained on alert. It’s able to deploy 280,000 troops in wartime and has one of the strongest artilleries in Europe.

“Finland is, right now, geopolitically and geostrategically one of the most important countries in Europe because we have just doubled our NATO border with Russia,” Stubb said. “A lot of people count on us.”

--With assistance from Max Ramsay, Rob Dawson, Ben Priechenfried and Iain Rogers.

(Updates with comment from China starting in fifth paragraph)

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