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- China is shipping huge amounts of gear to Russia, including bulletproof vests and helmets.
- The deliveries toe the line between civilian and military use, which lends deniability to China.
- The goods are non-lethal, but still useful enough to have a material impact on the war in Ukraine, per Politico.
China is quietly sending millions of dollars worth of gear to Russia that could make an impact on Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, according to a Monday Politico report.
Though Beijing has publicly called for peace, customs records obtained by Politico reveal that likely-Russian buyers have taken orders for hundreds of thousands of bulletproof vests and helmets produced by Chinese manufacturer Shanghai H Win, which has seen a surge in business since the war began last year.
This amounts to what the report described as a “China-sized loophole” in sanctions: China appears to be sending Russia so-called dual-use technology — gear that offers both civilian and military use – which leaves exporters enough deniability to avoid interrogation from the West.
Russia’s imported over $100 million-worth of Chinese drones in 2023, about 30 times more than Ukraine has, and shipments of ceramics — a key body armor material — has seen a 69% increase from China to Russia to $225 million.
In the same stretch, Ukraine’s ceramics imports from China have plunged 61% to $5 million.
Drones and dual-use goods, however, won’t trigger a response from authorities in the European Union, sources told Politico, as they aren’t something that would have been explicitly agreed upon in sanctions.
Buyers importing these goods look characteristic of Russian shell companies meant to conceal dealings. Silva, one buyer of Shanhai H Win products, located in the Eastern Siberian region Buryatia, took in an order of 100,000 bulletproof vests and 100,000 helmets. Yet it appears to be a brand new firm — it was registered in September last year and reported zero profits for 2022.
Russian company Legittelekom, which Politico describes as a Moscow freight forwarding company, and another called Rika, made similar orders.
These dual-use products are listed as “airsoft helmets,” and appear harmless and not for military use, but it’s common practice to mislabel dual-use items for their civilian use, rather than what they’re used for in the battlefield.
Earlier in July, Cindy Zheng, a researcher at the RAND Corporation think tank, warned that China’s cheap weapons exports could see a boost from Russia’s war. The arms could appear attractive to Moscow, Zheng said, since the prolonged conflict has curtailed its defense budget and China has few scruples about arms sales.