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Russia sought military aid from China, U.S. officials say

An airstrike near Ukraine's border with Poland killed 35 and injured 134 others, Ukrainian officials said, noting that the shelling was close to a NATO country.
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LVIV, Ukraine — The U.S. government has reason to believe Russia asked China for military equipment and other support following the start of its war in Ukraine, three U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.

The officials declined to elaborate on whether China agreed to the request, or whether the U.S. even knows the answer to that question. They declined say what kind of equipment was requested, and whether it was lethal.

News of the request was first reported by the Financial Times.

U.S. concerns about Russia’s request were expected to be a key issue when President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, meets Monday in Rome with China’s senior diplomat, Yang Jiechi. The White House announced that meeting earlier Sunday.

Russia’s Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he had not heard about the request.

"China is deeply concerned and grieved on the Ukraine situation," he added. "We sincerely hope that the situation will ease and peace will return at an early date.”

The White House had no comment.

Earlier Sunday on NBC News' "Meet the Press," Sullivan warned non-allies against aiding Russia's war effort, and he singled out China.

“We have made it clear to not just Beijing, but every country in the world, that if they think that they can basically bail Russia out, they can give Russia a workaround to the sanctions that we’ve imposed, they should have another thing coming," he said. He added:

"We will ensure that neither China, nor anyone else, can compensate Russia for these losses."

The news came as at least 35 people were killed and 134 others were injured when a Russian airstrike hit a military base in western Ukraine about 20 miles from the Polish border, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

“The airstrike was carried out from the Black and Azov seas,” Lviv regional administration head Maksym Kozytskiy said in a Telegram post, which confirmed the number of dead and injured. He added that around 30 missiles had hit the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security in Yavoriv.

NBC News has not independently verified the number of those killed or injured or the missile strikes.

A medic transports a serviceman on a stretcher following an attack on the Yavoriv military base at a hospital in Yavoriv, Ukraine, on March 13, 2022.
A medic transports a serviceman Sunday after an attack on the Yavoriv military base at a hospital in Yavoriv, Ukraine.Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Kozytskiy added an appeal to NATO to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine and to provide military planes. NATO countries, including the United States, have not done so because of concerns that the moves could seriously escalate the conflict with Russia.

“Now that the shelling is approaching the borders of NATO countries, this is the crucial moment,” Kozytskiy said.

The attack came after Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, suggested Saturday that Russian forces could try to destroy foreign shipments of weapons to Ukraine, calling them “legitimate targets.”

The International Center for Peacekeeping and Security regularly hosts American, Canadian and other international instructors who help train the Ukrainian military.

The base is west of the city of Lviv, where thousands have fled amid heavy attacks in the eastern part of the country. Military supply groups told NBC News last week that the six-hour drive from Kyiv to Lviv now takes about a day’s time.

Both Lviv and other cities along the Polish border have been crucial in allowing for the influx of supplies that allow the Ukrainian military to keep up its fight against Russia.

Russia has continued to expand its military offensive west, with airstrikes Friday on the cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk.

While the country has said it was not targeting civilians, the U.N. Human Rights office said at least 579 civilians had been killed, including 42 children, as of Friday. Another 1,002 civilians were injured, the agency reported.

Josh Lederman reported from Brussels. Anastasiia Parafeniuk reported from Lviv and Joy Y. Wang from London.