The US believes China may be providing non-lethal military assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine, according to four US officials familiar with the matter, and the administration is concerned they are considering sending lethal aid.
While China has provided some help to Russia, including parroting Russian disinformation campaigns about the war and promoting Russian false pretexts about the war, this is more tangible assistance for use by Russian troops in Ukraine, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The officials declined to provide specifics about the non-lethal military assistance, but said it could include gear for the spring offensive like uniforms or even body armor.
A spokesperson for National Security Council declined to comment.
In the weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, senior US officials including President Biden and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned Beijing not to provide material support to Russia for the war or there would be consequences. China seemed to be complying and did not sell lethal weapons systems to Russia.
“We have been clear about our concerns about lethal aid. We have not yet seen them cross that line, but we don’t think they have taken it off the table,” according to a source familiar.
The source familiar said China is trying “to creep up to the line without getting caught,” and that recent trend lines point to potentially more tangible Chinese government support for the Russian military.
Rescuers are at work outside a building partially destroyed by Russian missile strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Feb. 5, 2023.Sergey Bobok / AFP via Getty ImagesSecretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi met after the Munich Security Conference today, and a source familiar with the conversation say this was “an essential topic of conversation.” Blinken and other US officials have been sharing information about the Chinese assistance to Russia with allies and partners at the conference.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the conference Saturday and said China has grown closer to Russia since the war began.
“We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” she said. “Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing, and further undermine a rules-based order.”
The US is consulting with allies and partners in Munich and elsewhere, and sharing the concerning trend lines on China support for Russia, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
Bloomberg and CNN reported in January that the Biden administration confronted Chinese government officials with evidence suggesting that Chinese companies were providing non-lethal support to Russia in the war.
Now, US officials say the assistance is coming from the Chinese government itself.
It’s not clear if the support violates any sanctions, the officials said, or if the US would impose new sanctions or costs on China for this non-lethal support, but sources familiar with administration thinking say the US will not hesitate to target those who violate sanctions.
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit. » …