China is sending Russia enough military hardware, including drones, to equip an army.

Politico has reported that China has sent Russia enough military equipment to equip an army, taking advantage of loopholes in Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Using evidence such as customs records, Politico reported that Chinese manufacturers were delivering significant amounts of equipment to help Russia in its fight against Ukraine.

This includes enough protective gear to outfit many of the troops Russia has mobilized for its invasion and drones that can direct artillery fire and drop grenades on Ukrainian forces.

According to the report, Chinese manufacturers have also shipped thermal, optical sights that can target soldiers at night.

Russia has imported more than $100 million worth of drones from China since the beginning of this year, as well as $225 million worth of ceramics, which can be used in bulletproof vests, an increase of 69% over 2022.

Chinese companies are taking advantage of a legal loophole to ship this equipment: The equipment is considered non-lethal and dual-use, meaning it can have civilian and military applications.

This leaves the Western authorities with an excuse if they don’t want to take on China on this issue.

China has repeatedly denied sending military hardware to Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

But Ukraine declared earlier this year that it was finding increasing Chinese parts in captured Russian weapons, including drones and tanks.

And US intelligence documents obtained by The Washington Post in April showed that China had approved the “supply of lethal aid” to Russia earlier this year and planned to send military equipment disguised as civilian material.

The United States claimed that it had not seen any evidence that China had provided Russia with weapons or lethal aid.

Customs records obtained by Politico showed Russian buyers declaring orders for hundreds of thousands of bulletproof vests and helmets made by a company called Shanghai H Win.

Russia has been struggling with equipment shortages, with soldiers mobilized saying they had to buy their own bulletproof vests and a Russian soldier complaining in an intercepted phone call that his unit was out of ammunition and was given only one grenade each to blow themselves up.

In March, the British Defense Ministry stated that Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut were likely forced into close combat because they did not have enough artillery ammunition.

And in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that his troops did not have enough equipment, including “high-precision ammunition, communications equipment, planes, drones, etc.”

China is officially neutral and has tried to position itself as a potential peacemaker that can broker a deal. But it has also expanded relations with Russia since the invasion began through state visits, trade exchanges and more purchases of Russian oil. Nor has it interrupted its military maneuvers with Russia.

Helena Legarda, an expert on Chinese foreign policy and defense at the German think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies, told Politico: “What is abundantly clear is that China, for all its claims that it is a neutral actor, is, in fact, supporting Russia’s positions in this war.”

Ukraine is also a customer of Chinese weapons, though Politico reported that its imports of many types of Chinese equipment had plummeted this year.

Sineád Baker