There’s been much speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of China supplying Russia with weapons in order to invigorate its stalled full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with the U.S. taking the lead in warning Beijing of the dire consequences of such a move.
Yet in an interview on Monday, Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence dismissed the speculation, saying: “I do not see any signs that such things are even being discussed.”
Is China supplying Russia with weapons?
At the moment, and as far as anyone knows, no, China is not currently sending lethal weaponry to Russia. All of the current discussion around the issue is about the possibility of China doing so in the near future, something Chinese officials have denied.
What’s the current discussion?
The latest comments from the U.S. came on Sunday when CIA director William Burns said he was “confident” that China is considering providing lethal equipment to support the Russian forces invading Ukraine.
In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he said any such move would be “a very risky and unwise bet,” adding: “I hope very much that they don’t.”
They echoed comments a few days earlier from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said China was “considering providing lethal support.”
But U.S. President Joe Biden said after this that he does not “anticipate a major initiative” from China to provide weapons to Russia, adding that he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping last summer that a move to arm Russia would have dire economic repercussions.
“Without any government prodding, 600 American corporations left Russia, from McDonald’s to Exxon,” he said he told Xi.
What’s Ukraine’s take?
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence has brushed aside the claims, telling U.S. media that he saw no “signs that such things are even being discussed.”
In a lengthy interview with Voice of America published on Monday, Kyrylo Budanov said: “I do not share this opinion. As of now, I do not think that China will agree to the transfer of weapons to Russia. I do not see any signs that such things are even being discussed.”
Asked specifically about the U.S. assessment, Budanov said: “I am the head of intelligence and I rely, with all due respect, not on the opinions of individual people, but only on facts. I do not see such facts.”
As to where Russia could still procure arms, Budanov said that apart from unconfirmed reports of shipments from North Korea, “there is perhaps only one country that is actually transferring more or less serious weapons – Iran.”
Why would China consider such a move?
The closest thing Russia has to global superpower support is China, though it is far from definitive or unconditional. China has never condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, nor has it endorsed it.
Beijing has walked a delicate and rather ambiguous line, which has at times echoed the Kremlin’s line, referring to the invasion as a “special military operation,” for instance, and abstaining from United Nations votes condemning it.
Last year China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country would help Russia “overcome difficulties, eliminate disturbances, realize the strategic goals of development, and further establish Russia on the international stage.”
Yet this contrasted sharply with comments just two weeks previously from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, who called for de-escalation, adding, “all countries deserve respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and that “support should be given to all efforts that are conducive to peacefully resolving the crisis.”
Russia has repeatedly requested arms from China, but as far as is known, Beijing has balked.
China has, however, provided non-lethal equipment such as flak jackets and helmets, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
One way China is undoubtedly supporting Moscow is by increasing imports of Russian oil and gas.
But China remains wary of doing more, lest it become the target of debilitating Western sanctions.
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