Russian entities also received 12 shipments of drone parts from Chinese companies and more than 12 tons of Chinese body armor, routed through Turkey, by the end of 2022, according to the data.
Although the customs data does not show that Beijing is selling a large quantity of weapons to Moscow specifically to help it in its war effort, it does reveal that China is supplying Russian companies with previously undeclared “dual-use” equipment – commercial items that could also be used. on the battlefield in Ukraine.
This is the first confirmation that China is sending guns and body armor to Russian companies, and shows that drones and drone parts are still being sent despite promises from at least one company who said that it would suspend operations in Russia and Ukraine to ensure its products would do so. not help the war effort.
The confirmation of these shipments comes as US and European leaders warn Beijing against supporting Russia’s efforts in Ukraine. Western officials have said in recent weeks that China is considering sending weapons to the Russian military, a move that could change the nature of fighting on the ground in Ukraine, tipping it in favor of Russia. Officials also fear that some of the dual-use materials could also be used by Russia to equip reinforcements deployed in Ukraine at a time when Moscow is in desperate need of supplies.
Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co., also known as DJI, sent drone parts – like batteries and cameras – via the United Arab Emirates to a small Russian distributor in November and December 2022. DJI is a Chinese company that has been under American control. Treasury sanctions since 2021 for providing the Chinese state with drones to monitor the Uyghur minority in the western region of Xinjiang.
In addition to drones, Russia has for months relied on other countries, including China, for navigational equipment, satellite imagery, vehicle components and other raw materials to help support the war. one year of President Vladimir Putin against Ukraine.
It is currently unclear if Russia uses any of the rifles included in the Battlefield Expedition Data – Tekhkrim, the Russian company, did not respond to an email request for comment. But DJI drones have been spotted on the battlefield for months. DJI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The National Security Council has not commented on the record of this story. The Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement that Beijing is “committed to promoting peace talks” in Ukraine.
“China did not create the crisis. It was not a party to the crisis and did not supply arms to any of the parties to the conflict,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said.
Asked about the conclusions of the data obtained by POLITICO, Polish Ambassador to the EU Andrzej Sadoś said that “due to the potentially very serious consequences, this information should be checked immediately”.
Although Western sanctions have hampered Moscow’s ability to import everything from microchips to tear gas, Russia is still able to buy supplies that support its war effort from “friendly” countries that don’t keep up with the news. Western rules, such as China or the Gulf countries.
“Some commercial products, like drones or even microchips, could be suitable. They can go from just a benign civilian product to a deadly, military product,” said Sam Bendett, deputy principal researcher at the Center of Naval Analyzes Russia Studies in Washington, noting that dual-use items could help Russia advance on the battlefield.
Experts say it’s unclear whether dual-use items shipped from China are being sold to buyers who intend to use the technology for civilian or military purposes.
“The challenge with dual-use items is that the export control system we have has to take into account both the possibilities for commercial sale and the military use of certain items,” said Zach Cooper, former assistant to the Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism. to the National Security Council.
In cases where the Kremlin yearns for specific technology produced only in the US, EU or Japan, there are clever ways for Moscow to evade sanctions, including buying hardware from middlemen located in countries with cordial trade relations with the West and Russia.
Russia managed to import nearly 80 tons of body armor worth around $10 million in December last year, according to customs data from Import Genius. These bulletproof vests were made by the Turkish company Ariteks and most were imported directly from Turkey, although some of the shipments arrived in Russia via the United Arab Emirates. Russia also imported body armor from China’s Xinxing Guangzhou Import & Export Co.
Trade data also shows that Russian state defense company Rosoboronexport has imported microchips, thermal vision devices and spare parts like a gas turbine engine from various countries ranging from China to Serbia and Myanmar. since 2022.
The dual-use items could also be a way for China to quietly increase its aid to Moscow while avoiding the retaliation officials in Washington and Europe have threatened in recent weeks if China continues to send weapons to Moscow. Russian army.
More recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters last week that there would be “consequences” if China sent arms to Russia, although he also said he had seen “no proof” that Beijing was planning to deliver weapons to Moscow.
“We are now in a phase where we are making it clear that this should not happen, and I am relatively optimistic that our application will be successful in this case,” he said.
Among the military items China plans to ship to Russia are drones, ammunition and other small arms, according to a list that has been circulating within the administration and on Capitol Hill for months, according to a person who read this document. And intelligence released to officials in Washington, on Capitol Hill and to US allies around the world over the past month suggests that Beijing may make the decision to ship weapons to Russia.
” We see [China] to provide assistance to Russia in the context of the conflict. And we see them in a situation where they’re increasingly uncomfortable with the level of support and not looking to do it as publicly as they might otherwise and given the reputational costs that are associated with it,” Avril Haines, U.S. director of National Intelligence, told a March 8 congressional hearing. “It’s a very real concern and the degree of closeness and help they provide is something we are monitoring very carefully.”
As data on shipments of dual-use items to Russia become available, Western countries should step up their efforts to crack down on these flows.
“We have already started to see sanctions against people [moving] military equipment to Russia. I’m sure we’re going to see the EU and other countries target the people who are helping a lot of this material get to Russia,” said James Byrne of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank based UK. .
Beijing continues to deny stepping up its support for Russia in Ukraine. However, several of its top officials have recently visited Moscow. President Xi Jinping is expected to make an appearance there in the coming weeks. China recently presented a 12-point peace proposal for the war in Ukraine, although it has been criticized by Western leaders for its ambiguity and lack of detail on the need for Russian troop withdrawal.
Leonie Kijewski contributed reporting from Brussels.