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Mark Temnycky – Freelance journalist

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Academically, he has obtained a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations at Maxwell School.

This contribution is part of the book “The Dragon at the Gates of Europe: Chinese presence in the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe” (more info here) and has been selected for open access publication on Blue Europe website for a wider reach. Citation:

Temnycky, Mark, Chinese Influence in Central and Eastern Europe and the 2022-2023 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, in: Andrea Bogoni and Brian F. G. Fabrègue, eds., The Dragon at the Gates of Europe: Chinese Presence in the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe, Blue Europe, Dec 2023: pp. 41-56. ISBN: 979-8989739806.

1. Introduction

On 24 February 2022, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.[1] To date, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed.[2] One-fourth of Ukraine’s population is displaced, and numerous Ukrainian cities and villages have been destroyed.[3] According to experts, it will take over $1 trillion to rebuild the country, and – simply put – the war has been devastating.[4] Unfortunately, no one knows when the Russian military incursion will end.

When the war began, the international community was quick to react. Countries throughout the globe sent financial, humanitarian, medical, and defense aid to Ukraine.[5] This aid has allowed Ukraine to successfully hold off Russia’s ongoing invasion, and it has helped Ukraine slowly reclaim its territory from the Russian occupiers. It has also allowed Ukraine to rebuild itself during this difficult period.

Meanwhile, while the international community has helped Ukraine, it has also imposed stiff penalties on Russia to punish it for its war. Some Russian banks were removed from SWIFT, the international financial messaging system.[6] Russia was expelled from numerous international organizations, such as the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as the football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA. In addition, hundreds of Russian politicians and oligarchs have had their assets frozen and seized, and thousands of Russian commercial flights were banned from Western countries.[7] These penalties have hurt the Russian economy, where experts predict that Russia has lost hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of these sanctions.[8]

Due to this international response, Russia has been forced to build relationships with other countries that have not condemned its war. Numerous countries have terminated their business relationships with Russia, and this has further contributed to Russia’s economic problems. But as Russia struggles on the international stage, and as Russia’s influence declines across the globe, another country has attempted to take Russia’s place. This is none other than China.

For years, the Chinese have worked carefully to try and assert their place across the globe. For example, in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, the Chinese have attempted to start new business ventures and programs in an attempt to strengthen their influence in the region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has seen Chinese efforts decline in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, as well as elsewhere.

In other words, Russia’s war has had consequences that go beyond Russia’s relationship with the international community. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also impacted China, where the Chinese are beginning to realize that their role in Europe is declining.

What is the Russo-Chinese relationship, and how has it molded over time? In addition, how has Russia’s war impacted China’s role in Central and Eastern Europe? Finally, how as the war forced Russia to rely on China?[9]

2. History and Development of Sino-Russo Relations

For centuries, Russia and China have maintained a complicated relationship.[10] Rather than exploring this dense and long partnership, this piece will briefly highlight the past century and how these events have impacted the current Russo-Sino relationship.

Sino-Russo Relations: 1950s-1991

The modern partnership between Russia and China emerged in the mid-1900s, where the Soviets supported the communist party in China.[11] During this period, the newly established Soviet Union sought to expand communist ideologies to other parts of the globe, thus, the Soviets saw the Communist Chinese as partners. They shared common ideologies and values. This relationship materialized after the Second World War, where the communist movement grew in China. A revolution emerged in China, where the communists battled Chinese nationalist forces. During this period, the Soviets were quick to provide support to the Chinese Communist Party, and eventually, the communist forces won. The Chinese Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China, and a formal partnership was formed between the Soviet Union and China.[12]

Both countries would support each other’s political and ideological aspirations as time progressed during the Cold War. For example, during the Vietnam War, China supported communist forces in North Vietnam. The Soviet Union would support China and its efforts during the conflict, and it endorsed communist forces. Similarly, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Chinese supported the Soviets in their efforts. The Soviets and the Chinese would not agree to every action or policy taken during this period, and there were even some skirmishes near the Eastern Soviet Chinese border. Nonetheless, both countries continued to maintain their relationship, believing that it would be mutually beneficial in their future goals and aspirations in the region.

Sino-Russo Relations: 1991-Present

By the turn of the century, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and China have sought geopolitical and economic influence in their regions and beyond.[13] The two countries have enjoyed close military, economic, and political relations, and they have often supported each other at the United Nations General Assembly as well as on the Security Council. This has resulted in a power dynamic where Russia and China usually support each other and vote on matters similarly during UN resolutions and at the Security Council. Both countries have also sought to undermine Western influence in developing regions as well, such as in Africa and parts of Asia. In these instances, the Russians and Chinese have looked to develop economic relationships with countries in their regions, and this has seen their influence grow as they try to outcompete with the West. Finally, both countries have infamously attempted to meddle in affairs of their neighbors and abroad. This has ranged from providing financial contributions to political campaigns to launching cyberattacks and stealing personal and sensitive data.

Now, the Sino-Russian relationship is being tested. This is because of the Russian military incursion into Ukraine. In short, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has impacted China’s role with Russia, as well as China’s relationship with various European countries. While the majority of the international community has condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, China has remained silent. The Chinese government, to date, has not condemned the Russian invasion. Instead, it blamed the war on U.S. and NATO influence and provocation.[14]

China has also failed to participate in the international sanctioning of Russia.[15] While the globe tries to force Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, China continues to do business with the Russian Federation.[16] This has allowed Russia to continue its war in Ukraine as the revenue it is generating through business and trade is being used to finance Russian operations in Ukraine.[17]

There has also been a significant increase in the Russo-Sino trade relationship. The Chinese have been providing defense aid to Russia as well. According to reports, Chinese trade with Russia increased by nearly 30% in 2022.[18] Meanwhile, China has been reportedly helping arm Russia during the war. Recently, there have been reports stating China is sending assault rifles, drone shipments, and body armor to Russia.[19] Providing additional weapons to Russia will only lead to a prolonged war in Ukraine.[20]

3. The Effects of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on Sino-CEE Relations

Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinas has opted to provide assistance to the Russians. This decision is something that has hurt China’s relationship across the globe, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

The majority of the countries in the region have supported Ukraine during the war, and they will do whatever it takes to ensure Ukraine wins. Meanwhile, China has continued to support Russia. Due to these different goals, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe have begun to reduce their interactions with the Chinese.

While the world has been preoccupied by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China has sought to expand its influence in Central Europe and Eastern Europe. But it has been unsuccessful in these efforts. Over the span of several years, many Central European countries have been critical of China’s attempt to force itself into Central and Eastern Europe. There is a sense of distrust among the Europeans, and they have limited their interactions with China.[21] In addition, these countries are not dependent on Chinese assistance. In other words, these countries in Europe are self-sufficient. Due to this independence, the countries in Central and Eastern Europe are able to distance themselves from China without having to rely on funding for projects, restoration efforts, and other means to promote growth in their countries.[22]

Sino Relations with Central Europe

For example, in Romania, the Chinese were initially going to pursue public infrastructure projects. This option was short lived, however, as the Romanian government passed a memorandum stating that companies needed to follow protocols and practices set up by the European Union. Chinese firms did not fall in this category, and it allowed the Romanians to cut ties with Chinese businesses.[23] Since then, the Romanians have explored other avenues. Other Central European countries have pursued similar policies to reduce Chinese influence in the region. In Slovakia, the government initially toyed with the idea of building a train rail spanning from their country to China. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, scrapped these plans. China is supporting Russia in this ongoing war, and as a result, the Slovakians decided that they do not want to do business with the Chines during this period.[24]

Czechia has also had disputes with China, but for different reasons. Earlier this year, over 150 members of the Czech Lower House visited Taiwan. During the visit, the representatives promised to “enhance bilateral economic, political, and cultural ties” with Taiwan.[25] The Czechs also discussed arms deal with Taiwan. These actions have upset the Chinese and, as a result, relations between Czechia and China have declined.

Finally, Polish-Sino relations have soured. Recently, Polish government officials have refused to meet with Chinese officials due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Polish government urged the Chinese to pressure Russia to end the war. Polish statements to the Chinese, however, went unheard. The Polish government also called on its European allies and partners to be weary of their relationship with China, given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.[26] These statements have upset the Chinese.

Given the developments in Romania, Slovakia, Czechia, and Poland, Chinese influence in Central Europe is wanning. Countries in the region no longer wish to conduct business with Chinese firms and corporations. In addition, government officials from these countries have reduced their interactions with Chinese officials.

Sino Relations with Eastern Europe

Central Europe is not the only area where China has struggled. The Chinese have also realized that their influence in declining in Eastern Europe. For example, during the mid-2010s, and prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese government established an initiative with Central and Eastern European countries in an attempt to spread its influence in Europe. Known as the 17+1, these European countries discussed business opportunities with China.[27] The Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, has seen a decline in cooperation under this format. Recently, the three Baltic states abandoned their involvement in China’s 17+1 initiative.[28] The program is now down to 14+1, and other countries are reconsidering their role in the program.[29] This suggests that the policy sought to strengthen Chinese ties with Central and Eastern Europe is failing.

Outside of this program, Ukraine has also seen its relationship decline with China since the war began. This was most apparent earlier this year when China proposed a 12-point peace plan to try and resolve the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[30] The plan was swiftly rejected by Ukraine, where the Ukrainians stated that the Chinese agreement favored Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also attempted to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and he has even invited the Chinese leader to Ukraine. While President Xi recently had a phone call with President Zelenskyy, it does not appear that the Chinese leader will be visiting Ukraine anytime soon. In addition, doubts remain over China’s intentions and its relationship with Ukraine.[31]

Finally, aside from these examples, China’s willingness to continue supporting Russia has further seen its role decline in Central and Eastern Europe. In other words, China only has itself to blame for this declining relationship. As the war continues, food and gas prices have increased around the globe.[32] This has created hardships for millions of residents in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In addition, Ukraine’s agricultural sector and environment have been badly damaged.[33] This has prevented Ukraine from exporting food and goods to other parts of the world. These events have already led to a food crisis, and should matters become worse, then this could lead to a global famine.[34] Therefore, it is imperative that Russia ends its war in Ukraine. China could help with this process.

4. Conclusion

Overall, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been devastating. While the international community has sought to cut Russia out from international organizations and markets, China is attempting to support Russia during this period. The Chinese have provided an economic lifeline to Russia. This decision allows Russia to continue financing its war in Ukraine.

China is now beginning to realize that this decision has consequences. Over the past 19 months, Chinese influence in Europe has declined, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. Numerous countries in Europe are no longer interested in pursuing business endeavors and economic relationships with the Chinese. In addition, government officials from Central and Eastern Europe have reduced their interactions with the Chinese. As a result, Central and Eastern European countries have learned from their previous engagements with China. Meanwhile, China’s political influence has been declining in this part of the world. This has taught the Chinese that they will need to tread lightly as the war continues, and that they must continue to monitor the situation to see how matters develop in Ukraine.

In short, China’s decision to support Russia during the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen the Chinese lose their influence in Central and Eastern Europe. These events have taught the Chinese how the international community will react at times of war, as Russia has lost billions of dollars due to stiff sanctions, as well as thousands of lives. Despite this devastation, the Chinese have opted to support Russia during the war.

China’s support for Russia has damaged its image in Central and Eastern Europe. The Chinese should use these events as a lesson.


  1. Holly Ellyatt, “Russian Forces Invade Ukraine,” CNBC, February 24, 2022,
  2. Guy Faulconbridge, “Ukraine War, already with up to 354,000 Casualties, Likely to Last Past 2023 – U.S. Documents,” Reuters, April 12, 2023,
  3. George Ramsay, “A Quarter of Ukrainians Have Fled Their Homes. Here’s Where They’ve Gone,” CNN, March 21, 2022,
  4. Steven Arons, “Ukraine Reconstruction May Cost $1.1 Trillion, EIB Head Says,” Bloomberg, June 21, 2022,
  5. Christopher Wolf, “Countries That Have Sent the Most Aid to Ukraine,” U.S. News and World Report, February 24, 2023,
  6. BBC, “What Are the Snactions on Russia and Are They Hurting Its Economy?” BBC, May 25, 2023,
  7. Mark Temnycky, “Western Companies Should Do More to Stop Russia,” Wilson Center, March 31, 2022,
  8. Ibid.
  9. Paul Haenle and Ali Wyne, “The Paradox of the Russia-China Relationship,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 18, 2022,
  10. Philip Snow, “China and Russia’s Long Dance,” Project Syndicate, April 28, 2023,
  11. Peter Neville-Hadley, “How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with Russians and Revolution in 1920s Moscow,” South China Morning Post, January 27, 2028,
  12. Snow, “China and Russia’s Long Dance,” Project Syndicate.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Simone McCarthy, “As War Breaks Out in Europe, China Blames the US,” CNN, February 25, 2022,
  15. Maia Nikoladze, Phillip Meng, and Jessie Yin, “How Is China Mitigating the Effects of Sanctions on Russia?” Atlantic Council, June 14, 2023,
  16. Laura He, “China Is Helping to Prop Up the Russian Economy. Here’s How,” CNN, February 26, 2023,
  17. Mark Temnycky, “The Western Companies Helping Underwrite Russia’s War,” Wilson Center, March 22, 2023,
  18. Amanda Lee, “China-Russia Trade Likely to Have ‘Plateaued’ Even as Leaders Hail ‘Unprecedented High Level’ Relations,” South China Morning Post, May 24, 2023,
  19. Amy Hawkins, “China Agreed to Secretly Arm Russia, Leaked Pentagon Documents Reveal,” The Guardian, April 14, 2023,
  20. Mark Temnycky, “Increased Chinese Support for Russia Will Imperil the World,” The National Interest, March 24, 2023,
  21. Piotr Maciej Kaczynski, “How China Lost Central Europe,” Balkan Insight, August 15, 2022,
  22. Sona Muzikarova, “China Is Losing Eastern Europe,” Atlantic Council, June 19, 2023,
  23. Bogdan Neagu, “Romanian Issues ‘Memorandum’ Blocking Chinese Firms From Public Infrastructure Projects,” EURACTIV, February 2, 2021,
  24. Kaczynski, “How China Lost Central Europe,” Balkan Insight.
  25. Daniel McVicar, “How the Czech Republic Became One of Taiwan’s Closest European Partners and What It Means for EU-China Relations,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 24, 2023,
  26. Katherine Walla, “Poland’s Prime Minister: Western Europe Needs to Commit to Ukrainian Victory and Beware of China,” Atlantic Council, April 14, 2023,
  27. Andreea Brînză, “How China’s 17+1 Became a Zombie Mechanism,” The Diplomat, February 10, 2021,
  28. Stuart Lau, “Down to 14+1: Estonia and Latvia Quit China’s Club in Eastern Europe,” POLITICO Europe, August 11, 2022,
  29. Pepijn Bergsen and Valdonė Šniukaitė, “Central and Eastern Europe Become Hawkish on China,” Chatham House, September 16, 2022,
  30. Alexander Gauev, “Inside China’s Peace Plan for Ukraine,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 1, 2023,
  31. Peter Dickinson, “Xi Calls Zelenskyy but Doubts Remain Over China’s Peacemaker Credentials,” Atlantic Council, April 26, 2023,
  32. Mark Temnycky, “Russia’s War: Global Inflation, Famine, and Recession,” Emerging Europe, May 26, 2022,
  33. Mark Temnycky, “The Environmental Impacts of the Russian Invasion Affect Us All,” Diplomatic Courier, July 22, 2022,
  34. Editorial Board, “A Global Famine Looms. The U.S. Could Present It,” The Washington Post, April 30, 2022,