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China is considering sending drones and munitions to Russia, intelligence says

China is considering sending drones and munitions to Russia, intelligence says

(CNN) — The United States has intelligence that the Chinese government is considering supplying drones and munitions to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, three sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.

Now, it appears that Beijing has not yet made a final decision, the sources clarify, but negotiations are ongoing between Russia and China regarding the cost and scope of the equipment.

Since he invaded Ukraine Russia has made several requests for drones and munitions from China over the past year, sources familiar with the intelligence said. Beijing’s leadership has been seriously debating whether to send lethal aid for the past few months, the sources said.

US intelligence officials have been collecting information for the past few weeks, although it suggests that China is now leaning heavily on supplying the equipment. Last week, the U.S. and its allies began publicly warning about possible Chinese military support for Russia, trying to discourage Beijing from continuing down that path and pass a point of no return to being considered a pariah on the world stage. US officials said.

U.S. officials have not detailed what intelligence Washington has that points to a recent shift in China’s stance, but there has been enough concern among senior officials to actively share that information with allies and partners over the past week.

The National Security Council and the State Department declined to comment on the matter. CNN also sought comment from the Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington.

Asked Friday about the sale of dangerous equipment to Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing, “China has always taken a prudent and responsible approach to military exports and will not provide any arms sales to conflict or war-torn areas.”

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According to the sources, the drones and munitions — providing for smaller weapons such as handguns rather than larger artillery — would mark a significant increase in Beijing’s support for Moscow, which has largely remained low to date. Providing critical equipment such as helmets, body armor and satellite imagery to Russian forces.

This would provide a significant boost to Russia’s capabilities at a crucial time. Russian fighters are so low on ammunition that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, released photos of dozens of dead members of the group on Wednesday, publicly blaming their deaths on the Russian Defense Ministry’s inability to supply them with enough ammunition. .

German publication Der Spiegel It was first China should inform Russia that it can supply attack drones.

“The concern we have now is based on information we have gathered that they are considering providing dangerous support, and we have made it clear to them that this would cause serious problems for us and our relationship,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Warning last weekend.

Wang Yi, Blinken’s Chinese representative, responded to the U.S. accusations earlier this week, saying China’s stance on Ukraine “could simply be expressed as promoting peace talks.”

He said China will continue to stand firmly on the side of dialogue and peace and play a constructive role in easing the situation. China on Friday proposed a “peace plan” for the war in Ukraine that US officials are highly skeptical of.

Russia has bought hundreds of weapons-capable drones from Iran in recent months, but has been quick to fire them with repeated attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian areas.

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To date, Beijing has been reluctant to supply potentially dangerous equipment to China due to the risk of international pushback. Beijing still wants any supply of equipment to Russia to be deniable and simply not due, those sources said.

That is why most of the non-lethal support Russia’s military has received from Beijing to date has been small-scale and provided through Chinese companies. As CNN previously reported, the Biden administration confronted China directly about that military aid to determine how complicit the federal government was.

But the lines between public and private companies in China have become blurred, the sources said, and U.S. intelligence says Beijing is using companies for plausible deniability.

The U.S. is also beginning to see “disturbing trends” in China’s support for the Russian military, officials said.

Wang visited Russia this week and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the coming months.