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How Chinese Military Equipment Found Its Way Into The Ukraine War

  • Chinese-made military equipment, including a multipurpose vehicle model called the Tiger, has been spotted in use on the Ukrainian battlefield, raising suspicions about China's covert role in the conflict.
  • While there's no concrete evidence of China providing formal military aid to Russia, Chinese exporters have reportedly supplied components of weapon systems to sanctioned Russian defense companies, indicating a possible loophole in sanction enforcement.
  • Recent investigations have traced the flow of Chinese components into Iran, then to Russia, and finally used against Ukraine, highlighting the complex supply chains that can circumvent sanctions.

It's been a constant since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but Chinese parts and components -- as well as drones and some weapons -- are finding their way onto the battlefield and helping Russia's military.

Finding Perspective: The issue was pushed back into the spotlight following a video posted to Telegram by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov showcasing an array of new military equipment, including eight Chinese-made unarmed armored personnel carriers.

The vehicles appeared to be a multipurpose model called the Tiger or China Tiger and the video brought renewed scrutiny of Chinese weaponry helping the Kremlin's war effort -- a possibility raised by Western governments and experts for some time.

It's difficult to determine when or how the Chinese vehicles ended up in Chechnya, or how they might be deployed on the battlefield -- if at all.

While the equipment is no doubt Chinese-made, multiple military experts I spoke with said it was unlikely this was from a formal sale, saying that the Tiger is widely exported around the world -- including across Africa and to Tajikistan -- and that Kadyrov states in the video that "we regularly purchase military equipment that helps our fighters be more effective in solving the tasks assigned to them."

Why It Matters: There is no evidence so far that China has provided any formal military aid, such as shipments of ammunition or full weapons systems.

Doing so would bring major reputational costs to Beijing and China has instead pivoted to taking up a diplomatic position around the war to frame itself as a peacemaker.

Still, Chinese exporters have supplied components of weapons systems and dual-use technology to sanctioned Russian defense companies.

A new report from The Wall Street Journal found that Iranian drones used by Russia in Ukraine had new Chinese parts that were made this year.

The revelation shows that new Chinese components are continuing to flow into Iran, where they then make their way to Russia. According to an investigation, the Chinese part was made in January, shipped to Iran, installed, and then sent to Russia and used against Ukraine in April.

While this stops short of full-blown military support, it highlights the complexities of supply chains and the multitude of ways countries can still skirt sanctions.

Another recent investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project tracked an export path for Chinese drones from China to Russia to the battlefield via the Netherlands and Kazakhstan through a collection of Russian-owned companies.

Expert Corner: Slovakia, Elections, And Taiwan

Readers asked: "Along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia has been one of Taiwan's strongest supporters in Europe. The country is set to hold parliamentary elections in late September amid rising populism and growing pro-Russian, anti-Ukraine rhetoric on the political spectrum. How might that affect relations with Taipei?"

To find out more, I asked Matej Simalcik, the executive director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies in Bratislava:

"There's still time until the elections and the polling is not yet conclusive about what the result may be or what kind of constellation of parties can form a coalition. But at the moment, the election could go either way and that could impact relations with China and Taiwan, even though neither are big election topics in Slovakia.

"In general, you can divide Slovak politicians into three groups when it comes to China. The first are those that are pragmatically pro-Chinese and see it as a source of economic benefits. The second are more ideologically inclined towards China. These two groups are mixed and matched across several political parties, but share elements of their worldview when it comes to economics and politics that tends to favor Chinese interests. The third group are those that are opponents of China ideologically while calling for some form of limited trade relations.

"Should the opposition form a government [likely led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico's Smer-SD party] then we'd see the first two groups have a larger voice. It's also important to observe that many of these politicians that tend to be pro-Chinese are also pro-Russian and they don't back China out of sheer goodwill. It's generally a very cold political calculus where they can use China in a way that fits into their anti-West narratives related to domestic politics or the war in Ukraine."


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  • Mamdouh Salameh on June 14 2023 said:
    What if they did? After all, China has a strategic alliance with Russia. Moreover, it doesn’t recognize Western sanctions against Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

    What is the difference between the United States, the EU and NATO opening their entire arsenals to supply Ukraine with highly advanced weaponry and China supplying some spare parts and few weaponry items to its ally Russia?

    Also how is it different from the United States selling weapons to Taiwan knowing full well that such sales will strengthen the hand of political factions wanting to declare independence despite the fact that the United States signed a binding treaty with China accepting that Taiwan is an integral part of China?

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert
  • June Bug on June 15 2023 said:
    How does this work? Its ok for the US to send them militaty equipment, but if someone else does, they are wrong?

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