[Editor's note: This story is updated with a comment from the Atlantic Council senior fellow, Anders Aslund].
On April 28 the Russian state television channel Vesti.ru, on its Sunday prime time show “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.," featured an interview with Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.
Peskov was speaking via a video link from Beijing, China, where Putin last week held talks with President Xi Jinping.
The TV show’s host, Vladimir Solovyov, asked: “Our Chinese comrades are actively demonstrating their good attitude towards Russia and the personal relations between presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin cannot be called anything else but a friendship. Still, as I understand it, the Chinese comrades are implementing American sanctions. How much do we understand their true intentions?”
Peskov responded by repeating the Kremlin line -- that the international sanctions are “illegal from the point of view of international law.” That is what is false in Peskov’s the interview on Vesti.ru. Polygraph.info has previously examined and debunked that claim.
Richard Cooper, professor of international economics at Harvard University, told Polygraph.info: “Russia's invasion and absorption of Crimea certainly violated international law -- the United Nations was established to avoid such aggressive takeovers -- so sanctions against that do not violate international law.”
Peskov also said that China did not join the international sanctions, but that is only partly correct. Beijing has not imposed its own sanctions against Moscow: on the contrary, it has occasionally criticized such restrictions.
Still, Beijing’s public rhetoric may be different from its actual practices. On the one hand, the sanctions against Russia have benefited China, which has invested billions of dollars in the Russian economy while Russia is largely "off-limits" to Western investment.
On the other hand, China last year became a target of U.S. sanctions for making deals with blacklisted Russian entities, specifically for violating the ban on purchasing Russian military equipment.
"Formally, Peskov's statement is correct," Ander Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council told Pograph.info in an email. "But the four big Chinese state banks have all refused to provide Russia with financing from July 2014, when the US imposed its financial sanctions, so China looks first of all to its own interests with regard to the U.S., and thus implements U.S. sanctions on Russia, while not imposing sanctions of its own."
“I think Peskov is couching a difficult reality,” Michael Kofman, senior research scientists at CNA Corporation told Polygraph.info. “China does not support sanctions, particularly secondary sanctions which are seen as extra-territorial, but on the other hand the major Chinese state banks are complying with them.”
Peskov, himself, further commented half-admitting that businesses in China, including government entities, comply with sanctions.
“Yes, many Chinese banks, economic structures – they are forced to regard with caution these restrictions adopted by the Americans and other countries, because we live in an era of mutually-dependent economies. So, our Chinese partners often display caution, but that does not mean they are supporting these sanctions,” he said.
Kofman, also a senior fellow at the Wilson Center, put the reaction of Russians in perspective: “Some Russians joke that Chinese banks are more afraid of U.S. sanctions, and comply with them more stringently, than Europeans. So there is the political reality, and then there is the de facto Chinese compliance with U.S. sanctions which I suspect results in considerable consternation in Moscow."