Orders for hundreds of thousands of bulletproof vests and helmets made by Shanghai H Win have been made by Russian clients, according to customs records obtained by POLITICO. The goods listed in the documents correspond to those in the supplier’s online store.
Such evidence demonstrates that China is pushing to provide Russia with enough non-lethal but military-useful weaponry to significantly influence Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s 17-month war with Ukraine, despite Beijing’s calls for peace.
These supplies reveal a gap in the efforts to deter Putin’s war machine. Selling so-called dual-use technology that can be used for both military and civilian purposes gives Western authorities seeking an excuse not to challenge a significant economic force like Beijing just the right amount of plausible deniability.
How much equipment has China sold to Russia?
The volume of dual-use products that China ships to Russia during times of war is supported by customs data. While Ukraine is also a consumer of China, the statistics reveal a steep decline in its imports of most of the equipment examined in this report.
In 2023 so far, Russia has imported drones from China for more than $100 million, which is 30 times more than Ukraine. Additionally, according to Chinese and Ukrainian customs data, Chinese shipments of ceramics, a material used in body armour, soared by 69 per cent to Russia to reach more than $225 million. In comparison, they decreased by 61 per cent to Ukraine to get just $5 million.
How will the EU react?
According to Politico, an analyst specialising in Chinese defence and foreign policy at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a Berlin think tank, Legarda, said she would anticipate the EU to enact secondary sanctions aimed at those who support Putin’s aggressive war if China crossed the line and sent arms or military hardware to Russia.
However, tools employed in offensive frontline operations, including body armour, thermal imaging, and even commercial drones, are unlikely to provoke a response.
What do China’s actions mean?
The Western sanctions regime has a weakness that is highlighted by the imports of low-tech body armour alongside high-tech drones and thermal imaging equipment.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the equipment’s dual-use designation and the fact that a sizable percentage of it is made in China, it appears that the West will not be able to take substantial action to prevent these supplies soon.
In addition, there is the technology that passes via China that might contain Western-made components with potential direct military use.
According to a recent report by the KSE Institute, a think tank connected to the Kyiv School of Economics, Russia is fully aware of the China loophole and is exploiting it to purchase Western technology to wage its war against Ukraine.
The researchers discovered that over 60% of the crucial components in Russian weaponry found on the battlefield came from US-based enterprises.
However, there is little the West can do to force Beijing to stop sending dual-use goods to Russia.
Only the United States would be able to prohibit transactions in dollars outright, much as Washington did when it sanctioned Iran for its covert nuclear programme.