While Moscow puts its nuclear arsenal on high alert, the Western allies have gone for the financial nuclear option: Russian banks have been banned from Swift and the country’s central bank itself has been sanctioned. One means Russian businesses – or anyone in Russia for that matter – will have trouble conducting overseas transactions, and the other has made it hard for the central bank to halt the rouble’s free fall. In the words of the French finance minister, it’s “an all-out economic and financial war”. And as Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Jol puts it, the goal “is to suffocate the Russian regime”. In the face of hardened unity within the Western alliance, countries that have been friendly with both Russia and Ukraine are put in an embarrassing situation. China is not the only one in that position, though it has been the most reported on. American ally Israel relies heavily on Moscow’s favour to be able to operate freely, especially for its air force, in Syria where it targets Iranian and Lebanese military assets. India has been reluctant to upset Russia with their deep trade and defence links. Aside from Singapore, most of the Asean nations have shied away from outright condemnation as they are dependent on Russian arms supply. Playing the long game, they will not want to abandon Moscow. China is in a similar situation. Admittedly, though, in light of the unexpectedly tough sanctions, it’s also in a tight spot. Beijing needs to decide whether – or to what extent – to provide a lifeline to Russia’s economy after the United States and its allies imposed economic sanctions. It’s no accident that China lifted all wheat import restrictions on Russia in the same week that the conflict with Ukraine started, all to be paid for in yuan. The agreement reflects deepening ties while addressing China’s need to enhance food security. How war in Ukraine is drawing the US and Europe closer – against China The two economies have been drawing ever closer, with currency swaps and increasingly mutual use of the yuan and the rouble. Both have planned together to counter Western sanctions. Facing increasing isolation, Moscow will fall deeper into China’s embrace. That may be tricky. Beijing will need skills and statesmanship to handle this difficult friend.