China, Russia slam U.S. over sanctions related to their military transactions

The Chinese government expressed anger on Friday and demanded the withdrawal of Trump administration sanctions laid a day earlier on its military for purchases made in Russia.

U.S. on Thursday also officially sanctioned several Russians indicted in special counsel probe

President Vladimir Putin, left, with Russian and Chinese military officials, surveys exercises during the Vostok 2018 military drills on Sept. 13. A Chinese official and agency were censured by the U.S. over purchases of combat aircraft and surface-to-air missile system-related equipment (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/EPA-EFE)

The Chinese government expressed anger on Friday and demanded the withdrawal of Trump administration sanctions laid a day earlier on its military for purchases made in Russia.

The sanctions, part of a sweeping law punishing Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, see China censured for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia. Specifically, the sanctions are related to China's purchase of 10 SU-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018.

The U.S. State Department said it would immediately impose sanctions on China's Equipment Development Department (EDD), the military branch responsible for weapons and equipment, and its director, Li Shangfu, for engaging in "significant transactions" with Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter.

They block the Chinese agency, and Li, from applying for export licences and participating in the U.S. financial system.

It also adds them to the Treasury Department's list of specially designated individuals with whom Americans are barred from doing business.

The U.S. also blacklisted another 33 people and entities associated with the Russian military and intelligence, adding them to a list under the 2017 law, known as the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang is shown earlier this month in Beijing. Geng called the sanctions 'unreasonable,' saying the transactions with Russia didn't break any international laws. (The Associated Press)

CAATSA also seeks to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria's civil war.

"China expresses strong indignation at these unreasonable actions by the U.S. side and has already lodged stern representations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing, adding the moved seriously harmed bilateral relations and military ties.

"We strongly urge the U.S. side to immediately correct the mistake and rescind the so-called sanctions, otherwise the U.S. side will necessarily bear responsibility for the consequences," he said, without giving details.

China has "normal" military exchanges and co-operation with Russia, aimed at protecting regional peace and stability, which is not against international law or aimed at any third party, Geng added.

Several from Mueller probe added to list

China will continue to work with Russia to promote strategic co-operation at an even higher level, he said.

Some of those added to the list, which now contains 72 names, were indicted in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a U.S. official said.

President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order intended to facilitate implementation of the sanctions.

A federal special counsel led by former FBI head Robert Mueller is leading a criminal investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election, and any possible co-operation with Trump's presidential campaign.

Trump has insisted there was no collusion with Russia, although there is no federal crime of collusion to begin with. The president and members of his inner circle could conceivably be found to have engaged in conspiracy, which is an indictable federal crime, or obstruction of justice.

Moscow denies any effort to meddle in U.S. politics, although Vladimir Putin admitted at a summit this summer with Trump that he wanted the Republican to prevail in the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton.

Zero impact, Russian MP predicts

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that by imposing sanctions on buyers of Russian weapons, and on people associated with the Russian military, the United States is trying to squeeze out competitors in the global arms trade.

Peskov called the new sanctions hostile and unpredictable, but did not say how Russia would respond.

"They use this practice so often that one would trip up reacting to each new instance," he said.

Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, seen in April, said Friday it's hard to keep up with the increasing sanction notices from the U.S. administration. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

Russian member of parliament Franz Klintsevich said earlier the sanctions would not affect the S-400 and SU-35 deals.

"I am sure that these contracts will be executed in line with the schedule," Klintsevich was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency. "The possession of this military equipment is very important for China."

Security analysts in Asia said the move was largely symbolic and would only push Moscow and Beijing closer together.

"The imposition of U.S. sanctions will have zero impact on Russian arms sales to China," said Ian Storey, of Singapore's ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

"Both countries are opposed to what they see as U.S. bullying and these kind of actions will just push Beijing and Moscow even closer together," said Storey. He also said Moscow needed Chinese money and Beijing wanted advanced military technology.

The Trump administration is pursuing strategies to clamp down on China and faces growing pressure to respond strongly to U.S. intelligence agency reports that Russia is continuing to interfere in U.S. politics.

Members of Congress, including many of Trump's fellow Republicans, who passed the sanctions bill nearly unanimously, have repeatedly called on the administration to take a harder line against Moscow.

Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan are shown in Sochi earlier this month. Turkey has been warned by the U.S. and NATO that there could be consequences for its planned deployment of Russia's S-400 missile defence system. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters)

Administration officials said they hoped the action against EDD would send a message to others considering buying the S-400.

U.S. officials have been discussing the issue particularly with NATO ally Turkey, which wants to buy the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries.

Washington has expressed concern that Turkey's planned deployment of the S-400s could pose a risk to the security of some U.S.-made weapons and other technology used by Turkey, including the F-35 fighter jet.

U.S. officials have warned that Turkey's purchase of the system could contravene CAATSA.

"We hope that at least this step will send a signal of our seriousness and perhaps encourage others to think twice about their own engagement with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors," another U.S. official said.