11:58 p.m. ET, Feb. 24, 2023
US intelligence suggests China is leaning toward sending drones and munitions to Russia, sources say
From CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Zachary Cohen
US intelligence officials suggest the Chinese government is considering supplying Russia with drones and munitions for use in Ukraine, three sources familiar with the intelligence community tell CNN.
It appears that Beijing has not yet made a final decision, the sources said, but negotiations between Russia and China over the price and size of the equipment are ongoing.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly requested drones and munitions from China, the sources said, and the Chinese leadership has been actively debating whether or not to send the deadly aid in recent months.
U.S. officials have been gathering information in recent weeks suggesting China is leaning toward supplying the equipment.
The US and its allies last week began publicly warning of China’s potential military aid to Russia in an effort to deter Beijing from going ahead and becoming a pariah on the world stage, US officials said.
The supply of drones and munitions — likely for small arms such as handguns rather than larger artillery, the sources said — would significantly escalate China’s support for Russia, which to date has largely been limited to Chinese companies providing non-military supply weapons. deadly equipment such as helmets, body armor and satellite images.
The US National Security Council and State Department declined to comment, and CNN has asked the Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington for comment.
The German publication Der Spiegel first reported that China could supply attack drones to Russia.
What China has said publicly: Asked on Friday about the possible sale of deadly equipment to Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “China has always taken a prudent and responsible approach to military exports and does not provide arms sales to conflict zones or warring parties.”
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi responded to the United States’ allegations earlier this week, saying China’s stance on Ukraine “could simply be understood as advancing peace talks.”
China also released a position paper on Friday calling for the resumption of peace talks over the war in Ukraine, which US officials remain highly skeptical about.
Yi visited Russia this week and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the coming months.
Why it can be important for Russia: Moscow has bought hundreds of weapons-loaded drones from Iran in recent months, but is quickly blasting through them with repeated attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian areas.
And Russian fighters are so short on ammunition that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, this week published photos of several dozen dead Wagner fighters and publicly blamed their deaths on the Russian Defense Ministry’s inability to supply them with sufficient ammunition. to provide.