US wary of Chinese drone shipments to support Russia in Ukraine

A senior Republican lawmaker said China was considering sending 100 drones and other lethal weapons to Russia, as US officials warned Beijing could step up its support for Moscow in the Ukraine conflict.

Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said ahead of an expected meeting between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his Chinese leaders that the US is seeking Beijing to ramp up its support for Moscow in its year-long invasion of Ukraine. was worried about. counterpart Xi Jinping next week.

The news that a Chinese company was in talks to supply drones to Russia was first reported by Der Spiegel.

“We have intelligence that they are considering sending 100 drones to Russia. We also know that they’re buying all their energy from them, supporting them financially,” McCall said in an interview with the news network ABC.

McCall said Beijing is also considering sending “other lethal weapons”.

“The fact that they are going to meet next week, with Chairman Xi and Putin, to discuss this unholy alliance that they have, to lay down arms in Ukraine, is very troubling to me because maybe Ukraine Today, it’s going to be Taiwan tomorrow.”

CIA Director William Burns said that while the US previously believed China was reluctant to provide lethal assistance to Russia in the fight against Ukraine, that assessment has changed this month following new information.

In response, US officials have stepped up their public warnings to China about the potential consequences of such a move – according to several US officials, a message they have also conveyed to Chinese counterparts in back-channel meetings.

While the US has accused Beijing of providing non-lethal aid to Russia in the conflict, such as satellite imagery to help target Ukrainian weapons, the addition of the drones would mark a serious escalation of China’s involvement in the war. .

Senior US officials have repeatedly sounded the alarm this week about the possibility that China could provide Russia with weapons, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last weekend could include ammunition. But despite Blinken saying it “will be available soon,” the administration has shown no evidence to back the claim.

President Joe Biden appeared to downplay the claims of his top officials on Friday, saying he did not expect China to make any significant moves on arms.

Burns said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that the US was “convinced” that the Chinese leadership was considering “the provision of lethal equipment”. But he said Beijing had made no final decision and so far there was no evidence of “actual shipments of lethal equipment”.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan has tried to play down concerns. In several interviews on Sunday, he said that China has not made any shipments to Russia. Sullivan said the US would continue to use the “private high-level diplomatic channels” it has established to warn Beijing about the consequences of providing Moscow with any lethal aid, as it did last week. During Blinken’s meeting with Chinese Premier Wang Yi in Munich. diplomat.

“We will watch carefully, we will be vigilant and we will continue to send a strong message,” Sullivan told CNN. “We have certainly made clear the seriousness of the consequences for our relationship, and I think for China’s relationship with our European partners as well.”

Sullivan said: “Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it moves forward, whether it provides military assistance. But, if it goes down that path, it will pay China a real price.”

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

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