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How did China assist Russia in its war in Ukraine?

China assist Russia

WASHINGTON — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, relations between China and Russia have grown closer. Although there is no evidence that China has provided Russia with lethal weapons like Iran and North Korea, the United States and the West are increasingly concerned about China’s aid to Russia’s wartime economy. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned in recent days that they will hold China responsible for aiding Russia in the Ukrainian war. So, what exactly did China provide to Russia?

The United States and the West have repeatedly warned China of its war support for Russia

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who just concluded her visit to China, issued a stern warning to Beijing before returning to Washington that any company that provides material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine will face “significant consequences.”

“Any bank that facilitates significant transactions delivering military or dual-use products to the Russian defense industrial base will be at risk of U.S. sanctions,” she added at a press conference in Beijing on Monday (April 8).

On April 9, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell stated that China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine would threaten the stability of US-China relations. “We have told China directly that if this situation continues, there will be an impact on the U.S.-China relationship. We will not stand idly by,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s statement was obviously in response to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement that he hopes to strengthen “strategic cooperation.”

When US President Joe Biden had a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in early April, he also expressed concerns about China’s support for Russia’s war with Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is visiting Beijing this weekend, is expected to raise similar concerns with Chinese leaders and urge China not to support Russia’s wartime economy.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Chinese officials have always claimed to remain neutral on the Ukrainian war issue, but they have been assisting Russia politically and diplomatically. More importantly, the deepening trade relations between China and Russia have become an important factor in Russia’s defense against the West.

A lifeline to the impact of economic sanctions. Chinese customs data shows that the trade volume between the two countries reached a high of US$240 billion in 2023.

Unlike Iran and North Korea, there is currently no evidence that China directly provides Russia with lethal weapons. However, there is also increasing evidence that China continues to provide critical support to Russia’s war in Ukraine through other channels.

An assessment released by U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday showed that China has significantly increased its sales of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology to Russia, which Moscow uses to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft, and other weapons for its war in Ukraine.

Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT )

  • Bloomberg reported on April 6, citing sources, that the United States is warning allies that China has increased its support for Russia, including providing geospatial intelligence for military purposes.
  • The EU Satellite Center (EUSC) explains geospatial intelligence: Geospatial intelligence integrates data from satellites, mobile sensors, ground control stations, and aerial imagery. This data is then used to create real-time maps and simulations to help identify military threats.
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    5G and satellite technology cooperation

    A report released by the Royal United Services Defense Institute (RUSI) on March 1 warned that cooperation between China and Moscow in civilian 5G wireless communications and satellite technology may produce significant intelligence and military results.

    For attacking the Russian army in Ukraine, drones and communication equipment are crucial. These technologies need to be supported by stable communication signals and sufficient geospatial information.


    • 5G technology can ensure accurate tracking of military targets, rapid transmission and real-time processing of sensor data such as drones, smooth communication on the battlefield, etc.
    • Since 2014, China’s Huawei has reached a series of 5G cooperation agreements with Russia’s three major telecommunications companies (Beeline, MTS, and Megafon). In the past ten years, the technological breakthroughs that 5G has provided Russia in the civilian field can also be integrated into the military field to serve the Russian military’s operations in war.


    • In modern warfare, the services provided by satellite technology include surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation and positioning, early warning and missile defense, weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, damage assessment, and communication between combatants (especially in remote areas or areas where wireless network signals are difficult to reach or mountainous areas), etc.
    • Since 2014, China and Russia have been committed to improving the compatibility and complementarity between Beidou and GLONASS, the two major global navigation satellite systems. (The other two major navigation satellite systems in the world are the American GPS and the European Galileo system.)
    • In September 2022, China and Russia signed an agreement. Both parties agreed that GLONASS would build ground stations in Changchun, Urumqi, and Shanghai in China; Beidou would build ground stations in Obninsk, Irkutsk, and Petropavlov-Kamchatsky in Russia. A ground station will be built in Skok.

    Chinese-manufactured products with important military applications

    In the more than two years since Putin’s war, the flow of Chinese manufactured goods with important military applications into Russia has surged, according to open-source trade data. According to a report by the Atlantic Council, these Chinese-manufactured products have played a key role in strengthening Russia’s defense and counter-offensive capabilities on Ukrainian territory.

    Excavators and bulldozers

    • From August to September 2022, the Ukrainian army won successive victories, forcing the Russian army to adopt a defensive posture and start building the so-called “Sulovi Golden Line,” a three-layer defense system consisting of trenches, tank traps, and defensive fortresses. The fortifications later largely thwarted Ukrainian counterattacks against Russian forces. (Note: Sergey Surovikin was the commander-in-chief of the Russian army that invaded Ukraine at that time.)
    • And just in September 2022, China’s excavator exports to Russia more than tripled compared with 2021.
    • A report by the Wall Street Journal in August last year showed that in the first seven months of 2023, the number of bulldozers and excavators exported from China to Russia nearly doubled and more than tripled, respectively, compared to the same period last year.
    • The equipment is typically used in the construction industry, but Joseph Webster, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Wall Street Journal that the sharp increase in exports of the equipment suggests Russia is using some of the machines for defense.
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      The war in Ukraine is widely regarded as the first “drone war”, and Russia and Ukraine relied heavily on drones in both operations. This makes China, which dominates drone production, a key player in this battle.

      • The New York Times reported in October last year that Russia obtained drones worth at least $14.5 million from China in the first half of 2023. In comparison, the total number of Chinese drones obtained by Ukraine during the same period was just over US$200,000.
      • The European version of POLITICO reported in July last year that Russia imported more than $100 million worth of drones from China in the first seven months of 2023, 30 times more than Ukraine.
      • An investigation by “Nikkei Asia” in July last year found that between December 2022 and April 2023, Russian companies imported at least 37 drones from China, worth approximately US$103,000. Moreover, the customs declaration records of these drones clearly indicate “for special military operations only.”
      • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported last October that more than a year after Chinese commercial drone manufacturer DJI announced it was halting its Russian operations, its products were still being sold to entities with ties to Moscow’s military-industrial complex.

      These are not all. A report by the Wall Street Journal on March 4 showed that a large number of Chinese drones have flown into Russia through Central Asian countries.

      Tank and fighter parts

      • Ball bearings are an important component of military tanks. The Atlantic Council’s report last November showed that from the beginning of 2023 to October, China’s total ball-bearing exports to Russia increased by 345% compared with the same period in 2021; during the same period, China’s ball-bearing exports to Kyrgyzstan increased by 2,492%.
      • “It may be that the Kyrgyz domestic market may suddenly need ball bearings, but a more likely explanation is that these products were immediately re-exported to Russia, perhaps to drive down the top trade volume or to avoid future sanctions,” the report analyzed.
      • The New York Times reported in September last year that Russia’s post-war tank production had doubled compared to pre-war levels. The Atlantic Council report found that the surge in China’s exports of ball bearings to Russia may directly or indirectly promote the surge in Russian tank production.
      • Public intelligence documents released by the U.S. intelligence community in July last year showed that China has been providing Moscow with high-tech military components, including avionics equipment, jamming technology, and fighter engine parts with obvious military value.
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        Heavy trucks and tractors

        • During the war of aggression against Ukraine, the transportation of Russian military equipment and various other supplies mainly relied on land truck transportation. Chinese heavy-duty trucks have become the protagonists of Russian military logistics.
        • The Atlantic Council report data shows that from the beginning of 2023 to October, China’s total heavy truck exports to Russia increased by 345% compared with the same period in 2021.
        • In addition, China’s tractor exports to Russia soared from 0 units in 2021 to nearly 50,000 units in September 2023.

          Chips, integrated circuits

          • China also provides Russia with a large number of “dual-use” military and civilian products, such as chips and integrated circuits, that are subject to certain export restrictions.
          • Chips and integrated circuit components are critical components needed to produce many weapons. For Russia, chips and integrated circuits are the lifeblood of its missile manufacturing. Citing the latest intelligence, two senior U.S. officials said on Friday that about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics products came from China throughout 2023. These components are key components for Russia’s manufacturing of missiles, tanks, and fighter jets.
          • After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States, together with its allies and partner countries, implemented export controls on Russia, restricting its access to products such as chips and integrated circuits that may also be used in the military field. Therefore, the chips and integrated circuits that China directly or indirectly provides to Russia have become the great saviors of the Russian military industry.
          • According to multiple media reports in April last year, the Ukrainian military was discovering more and more Chinese-made electronic components in captured Russian weapons—from drone navigation systems to tank fire control systems.
          • According to Chinese customs data, China’s integrated circuit exports to Russia totaled US$179 million in 2022, more than double that of 2021.
          • Similar to the surge in China’s roller-bearing exports to Kyrgyzstan, China’s integrated circuit exports to Turkey rose from nearly $73 million in 2021 to nearly $125 million in 2022, despite Turkey’s poor economic conditions during the same period. Coincidentally, during the same period, Turkey’s integrated circuit exports to Russia increased by more than 50%. This makes the outside world suspect that China has also provided a large number of chips and integrated circuits to Russia through third countries.

            In addition, the US “Politician” News Network reported in March last year that Chinese companies shipped 1,000 assault rifles and other items that could be used for military purposes to Russian customers through Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in the second half of 2022, including drones and the drone’s parts and body armor.

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