Russia says China agreed to secretly provide weapons, leaked documents show

Russia says China agreed to secretly provide weapons, leaked documents show

April 15, 2023

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China approved “provision of lethal aid” to Russia in its war in Ukraine earlier this year and planned to disguise military equipment as civilian items, according to a US intercept of Russian intelligence revealed in leaked secret documents.

The intercept, apparently obtained through US eavesdropping on Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was included in a top-secret summary, dated February 23, of recent Ukraine- and Russia-related “products” compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It was among a number of previously unreported documents that The Washington Post obtained from a trove of images of classified files posted on a private server on the chat app Discord.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping leaving after their dinner at The Palace of the Facets in the Moscow Kremlin, Russia.Credit: AP

According to “signals intelligence,” the intelligence summary said, the SVR reported that China’s Central Military Commission had “approved the incremental provision” of weapons and wanted it kept secret. The report did not indicate the source of the SVR’s information.

The document, titled “The Watch Report,” and produced by the ODNI as “A Summary of Recent Reporting and Select items from [intelligence] Community,” is labelled top-secret with highly restricted distribution.

The China information is listed under a subheading, “BEIJING REPORTEDLY APPROVES COVERT SHIPMENTS OF LETHAL AID TO RUSSIA.”

The ODNI did not respond to a call asking for comment.

“We have not seen evidence that China has transferred weapons or provided lethal assistance to Russia. But we remain concerned and are continuing to monitor closely,” a senior administration official said.

A senior defence official agreed with that assessment. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity about the top-secret document.

The report provides the most detailed evidence to date of what led to a flurry of public and private Biden administration warnings to Beijing beginning in late February.

China, which maintains it is neutral on the war in Ukraine, denounced those US statements and said it would never accept coercion or “the US pointing fingers” when Washington is funnelling massive amounts of arms into the war.

But the leaked document expands insight into Russia’s deepening relationship with China, which is now Moscow’s chief foreign friend as President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine leaves Russia increasingly isolated.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut.Credit: AP

Although Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to cement his relationship with Putin in a three-day visit to Moscow last month, China has held back from fully endorsing the Russian leader’s effort in Ukraine, instead positioning itself as a potential peacemaker.

The United States and NATO have responded sceptically to Beijing’s calls for a cease-fire and to its 12-point peace plan, saying no solution should allow Russia to “rest” and “rearm.” Ukraine, meanwhile, demands that any negotiated settlement respect its internationally recognised borders, which would require Russia to withdraw from Crimea and other occupied areas of Ukraine.

A separate US intelligence assessment from the same period, part of a more widely circulated batch of Discord files, assessed that Beijing would view a “significant” Ukrainian attack on Moscow using US or NATO weapons “as indicative that Washington was directly responsible for escalating the conflict and possibly as further justification for China to provide Russia with lethal aid.”

Ukraine is believed to have sponsored or supported a number of attacks inside Russia, and US officials say they have warned Kyiv not to use US or NATO-supplied weapons for any operation outside Ukrainian territory.

The revelations come at a time of heightened US-China tensions and strained communications between Beijing and Washington, particularly over Taiwan.

A planned trip to Beijing in early February by Secretary of State Antony Blinken was cancelled at the last minute after a Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over military installations in the continental United States.

The balloon was subsequently shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by a US fighter jet, a response that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called “hysterical” and an “effort to divert attention away from domestic problems”.

On several recent occasions, Biden has said there is no evidence of lethal supplies from China going to Russia.

“I’ve been hearing now for the past three months about China’s going to provide significant weapons to Russia,” Biden said at a March 24 news conference in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“They haven’t yet – doesn’t mean they won’t – but they haven’t yet.”

Washington Post

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