US intelligence suggests the Chinese government is considering providing Russia with drones and ammunition for use in Ukraine, three sources familiar with the intelligence tell CNN.
It does not appear that Beijing has made a final decision yet, the sources said, but negotiations between Russia and China about the price and scope of the equipment are ongoing.
Since invading Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly requested drones and ammunition from China, the sources said, and Chinese leadership has been actively debating over the last several months whether or not to send the lethal aid.
US officials have collected information in recent weeks that suggests China is leaning toward providing the equipment.
The US and its allies last week began publicly warning about China’s potential military support to Russia in an effort to deter Beijing from moving ahead with it and becoming a pariah on the world stage, US officials said.
The provision of drones and ammunition — which would likely be for small arms like handheld weaponry rather than larger artillery, the sources said — would mark a significant escalation of China’s support for Russia, which to date has been largely limited to Chinese companies providing non-lethal equipment like helmets, flak jackets and satellite imagery.
The US National Security Council and State Department declined to comment, and CNN has asked the Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington for comment.
The German publication Der Spiegel first reported that China may provide attack drones to Russia.
What China has said publicly: Asked on Friday about the potential sale of lethal equipment to Russia, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “China has always taken a prudent and responsible approach to military exports and does not provide any arms sales to conflict areas or belligerents.”
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi responded to the United States’ allegations earlier this week, saying that China’s position on Ukraine “can be simply put as promoting peace talks.”
China also released a position paper Friday calling for a resumption of peace talks on the Ukraine war, of which US officials remain highly skeptical.
Yi visited Russia this week, and Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the coming months.
Why it could matter for Russia: Moscow has purchased hundreds of weapons-capable drones from Iran in recent months but is burning through them quickly with repeated attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian areas.
And Russian fighters are running so low on ammunition that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, published photos this week of several dozen dead Wagner fighters and publicly blamed their deaths on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s inability to supply them with enough ammunition.