Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and US President Donald Trump attend their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
The U.S. is wrong to accuse China of being responsible for the coronavirus outbreak without providing proof, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said, in the latest sign of a pivot away from Washington and towards Beijing.
As the debate over the origins of Covid-19 continues, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNBC that Russia couldn’t “show any solidarity” with China-bashing statements from the U.S., and stressed the importance of Moscow’s relationship with Beijing.
“We consider it not a proper time, being somewhere in the middle of a severe crisis, an unprecedented crisis, to try to blame everything on the international health organization (the World Health Organization) or, the next day, on China,” Peskov said Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” suggesting that the virus emerged from a state laboratory in Wuhan which had conducted research into bat coronaviruses.
Later on Sunday, President Donald Trump said he believed that a “horrible mistake” in China was the cause of the pandemic, though neither he nor Pompeo presented any evidence for their claims.
The comments come after the U.S.’ top spy agency said last Thursday that it had determined the virus was not man-made, but was still investigating whether it was caused by “an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
China has vehemently rejected claims that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and has even accused the U.S. of being the origin of the virus. Most experts believe that the virus likely originated in a wet market in Wuhan and was transmitted to humans via bats, or pangolins.
On Tuesday, President Trump told White House reporters that he was planning to release details to support the theory that the coronavirus came from a laboratory in Wuhan.
Dmitry Peskov, a top Russian official and President Putin’s spokesman, told CNBC that such accusations from the U.S. were “very, very serious” and if someone is going to make such accusations, “you have to deliver proof.”
“Without proof, we consider it wrong to attack third countries in this, let’s say, humbly speaking, non-diplomatic way,” he said.
It’s not the first time that Trump has pointed the finger of blame at China, having called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and accused the country of not telling the world about the virus quickly enough. He has said there would be “consequences” for China over the virus, and last week told Reuters that China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November.
Trump has also blamed the World Health Organization for its response to the outbreak, saying it mismanaged the pandemic before suspending U.S. funding for the United Nations’ health agency.
Russia’s pivot towards China
The U.S.’ relationship with China was already strained before the coronavirus, after almost two years of trade tensions and billions of dollars’ worth of import tariffs on both sides. Russia’s relationship with China, meanwhile, has blossomed, with the neighbors nurturing diplomatic relations and boosting trade and investment in recent years.
Peskov said Russia has its “own relationship with China and we do value this relationship.”
“It’s a relationship of mutual understanding and mutual cooperation and we’re trying to take advantage of that mutual cooperation in this severe crisis; we’re exchanging information and protocols of treatment and so on,” he said.
When it comes to Russia’s relationship with the U.S., it’s complicated.
Presidents Putin and Trump appear to get on well on a personal level and their relationship has been closely scrutinized since Trump’s election to the White House in 2016.
Russia was accused of meddling in the vote in favor of Trump, although an inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find sufficient evidence that Trump’s team coordinated with Russia to influence the result.
Trump has been pressured by a number of U.S. lawmakers to maintain (and in some cases, to increase) sanctions on Russia for reasons including election meddling, the country’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. in 2018.
Most recently, in December 2019, the U.S. imposed further sanctions on Russia’s massive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.
Russian officials have said they want their relationship with the U.S. to improve, however, and Peskov echoed that sentiment Tuesday, saying he wished the relationship “could have been better.”
“Because, frankly speaking, our relationship is not in a good condition right now. Although in the areas that are of mutual interest, we can talk to each other and that is important,”he said.
“But in general we don’t feel any reasons to be optimistic about our bilateral relations, unfortunately. To the contrary, our relationship with China is good and we value it and we’re determined to keep it.”