Russia’s Anti-Coronavirus Measures Irk China

Dimitri Simes | February 27, 2020 | 8:13pm EST
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A woman wears a face mask at a Moscow subway station. (Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman wears a face mask at a Moscow subway station. (Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow ( – China is protesting some of Russia’s anti-coronavirus measures, accusing Moscow city authorities of discriminating against its citizens and warning that relations between the two usually friendly countries could suffer as a result. 

Earlier this week the Chinese Embassy here sent a letter to the Moscow city government expressing concern over media reports that local public transportation officials were ordered to identify Chinese passengers and report their presence to the police.

The letter, published by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, called such a measure unprecedented and warned that it would have a detrimental effect on the otherwise friendly relationship between Russia and China. 

“The special monitoring of Chinese nationals on Moscow’s public transportation does not exist in any country, even in the United States and in Western states,” the letter stated. “Given an improvement in the epidemiological situation in China, Moscow residents and Chinese people living in Moscow will be worried and won’t understand, and it will harm the good atmosphere for developing Chinese-Russian relations.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, in response to questions about the letter, denied Wednesday that Russia was discriminating against Chinese nationals, saying it values China as a partner.

“As for the work of the headquarters and measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Russia, these measures are being taken with respect to everyone,” Peskov said. “If you know that even at the entrance to the Kremlin for major public events, these measures are taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. And believe me, it’s not only the Chinese that enter the Kremlin.” 

Russia and China are close geopolitical partners. The two countries have rapidly expanded their economic and military cooperation over the past several years, leading the U.S. intelligence community to warn in 2019 that Moscow and Beijing are “more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.”

But the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted the Russian government to restrict travel to and from China. It closed much of its border with China on January 30, subsequently suspended an e-visa program for Chinese citizens, and halted nearly all of its flights and trains to China. 

The Kremlin instituted a temporary ban on most categories of Chinese visitors entering Russia on February 20. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin later announced that police would raid the apartments of recent arrivals from China and then place them under quarantine for two weeks. 

“Conducting raids is an unpleasant task, but it is necessary, for the potential carriers of the virus as well,” Sobyanin said. 

The mayor warned that those placed under quarantine would be monitored by the city’s facial recognition technology system to ensure compliance. He said 2,500 arrivals from China have been placed under quarantine. 

In Russia’s fourth largest city of Yekaterinburg, authorities quarantined the new Chinese consul general when he arrived in the city on February 6 to take up his post. Cossacks, members of Russia’s traditional warrior class, have also begun searching predominantly Chinese neighborhoods in the city for signs of coronavirus. 

According to the World Health Organization, there have been only three confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia – two of whom were Chinese citizens who were treated and later released. 

The restrictions on movement have not come without economic costs for Russia. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, Russia’s trade with China has fallen at a rate of $15.6 million each day, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told the RBC news website.

There are also signs of growing displeasure from China over how Russia is attempting to stem the spread of coronavirus. Chinese diplomats were “dumbfounded” by Russia’s recent decision to enact a temporary entry ban, the Kommersant daily reported.

“The decision was made at a time when the number of cases has declined, so it’s not clear what logic guided the Russian authorities,” a Chinese diplomatic source told the newspaper.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, stated that Russia had conveyed its intentions before publicly announcing the temporary entry ban. 


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