China weighs sending drones, ammunition to Russia for Ukraine war

Last updated on February 24, 2023

China is considering sending Russia drones and ammunition to aid Moscow’s war efforts in Ukraine, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.

Another person aware of the intelligence also said Beijing was considering sending ammunition, along with other small arms.

No shipments of lethal aid have been made, the people stressed, but Washington is increasingly concerned about that possibility and has been gathering intelligence to that effect in recent months.

“We haven’t seen them provide lethal aid to Russia yet but we also have noticed that they haven’t taken it off the table,” Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Friday.

If China sends Russia weapons, it could alter the fighting on the ground, tipping the fight in favor of Moscow — a reality the U.S. and its European allies have worked to avoid with hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons shipments.

The news comes after U.S. officials in recent days downgraded the classification level of intelligence on China’s thinking to share it with allies across the world, in an attempt to pressure Beijing to back off any plans to send weapons to Russia. Since then, officials inside the Biden administration have debated releasing that intelligence to the public, a third person familiar with the matter said. All of the individuals were granted anonymity to speak freely about sensitive national security matters.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the details of China weighing sending drones and ammunition.

The U.S. has previously warned China about sending lethal aid to Russia. In a meeting with China’s top diplomat at the Munich Security Conference, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he told Wang Yi that such a move would severely impair the diplomatic relationship between Washington and Beijing. Washington has sent other warnings in diplomatic conversations over the last several weeks, as POLITICO previously reported.

The National Security Council declined to comment on the record for this story.

“We have said publicly and privately that there have been indications that the Chinese were considering the potential lethal assistance but we’ve also said that we haven’t seen them make that decision or move in that direction,” John Kirby, spokesperson for the NSC said in a briefing with reporters Friday. “And we certainly don’t want them to.”

U.S. officials have for months tracked China’s shipment of non-lethal, dual-use items to Russia, Blinken said in a conversation with The Atlantic last week. He did not provide details of those shipments. Dual-use items could range from anything from laptops and telecommunications equipment to aircraft parts typically used for civilian purposes.

“There has been some … dual-use type support coming from quote-unquote Chinese companies, that almost certainly was approved by the state,” Blinken said.

The U.S. earlier this month sanctioned a slew of Chinese companies for supporting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, including a satellite company, Spacety, that the administration says provided imagery to Moscow for use by the Wagner Group.

Alex Ward and Lara Seligman contributed to this report.