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UK says China is arming Russia, contra Blinken

China is in the process of providing “lethal aid” to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, according to the United Kingdom’s top defense leader.

“They have increasingly been working together,” British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps told a London Defense Conference audience on Wednesday. “And today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine.”

Shapps’s statement on Wednesday appears to be the first time that a senior Western official has claimed that China is also providing weaponry. Western officials worked throughout the first years of the full-scale war to discourage Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping from opening his arsenals to Putin. U.S. officials, in recent months, have rebuked China for sending “dual-use” manufacturing equipment on such a scale “that Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily” despite their losses in Ukraine and Western sanctions.

“We have not seen China provide actual weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday during a Senate hearing. “What we are seeing is China provide overwhelming support to Russia’s defense industrial base … we’ve already sanctioned more than 100 Chinese entities that we’ve identified that were engaged in providing dual-use products, other things that are on sanctions lists. We will continue to do that. And we were working to coordinate our efforts with European and other partners who are also aggrieved, in fact, in many ways, even more aggrieved by this practice because it’s a direct threat to them.”

Shapps, who took over the defense portfolio in August, further specified that U.S. and U.K. intelligence services have learned “lethal aid is now or will be flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine,” according to media reports. He unveiled that assessment, which could portend a major diplomatic confrontation between Western powers and China, to punctuate a milestone call for increased defense spending across NATO — and the expansion of the alliance to include neutral European states free-riding on NATO’s hard power.

“So I will also make the case for all those European nations which effectively benefit from NATO coverage, that enjoy the benefits of freedom and liberty, to come and join the alliance,” Shapps said. “When the bear is at the back door of European security, we must come and stand together. So, it is time for every European nation to step up and for NATO to renew its case more proactively.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to subjugate Ukraine in 2022 spurred Finland and Sweden to join the trans-Atlantic alliance, breaking a tradition of neutrality that dated back for generations — centuries in the case of Sweden. Yet Russia, too, has expanded its military relationships, drawing on Iran and North Korea for supplies of missiles, drones, and artillery. 

“An axis of authoritarian states led by Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have escalated and fueled conflicts and tensions,” Shapps said. “As we saw from Putin’s state visit to Beijing and the 64% growth in trade between Russia and China since the full-scale invasion … they’re covering each other’s back.”

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