What interest could China have in military assistance to Russia?

According to a number of American media reports, Moscow would ask Beijing to provide it with military assistance. This risk of a Sino-Russian military rapprochement is even on the menu for Monday’s meeting between US and Chinese officials. However, it is difficult to say what kind of assistance China can provide to Russia and whether it will see any benefit in this.

This is the new specter being brandished by the United States: a Russia-China military axis to end Ukraine as quickly as possible. Moscow has requested military assistance from Beijing, several US media outlets said, citing “officials” in the Biden administration. China would “react,” according to CNN, without specifying in what direction.

“We are very careful about the level and form of support that China actually provides to Russia,” said Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser. The latter is scheduled to meet in Rome on Monday, March 14, with Yang Jiechi, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, to dot the i’s on China’s stance on Russia’s invasion from Ukraine.

“Boundless Partnership” between China and Russia ?

“We are telling Beijing directly and privately that there will be consequences for any country that provides support to Russia to help it overcome the sanctions imposed by the international community,” Jake Sullivan said.

After more than 15 days of fighting, in which Russia failed to take control of Ukraine, military reinforcements from China should have worried Kyiv’s allies. After all, Beijing and Moscow have strengthened their military cooperation over the years to the point that in the fall of 2021, after joint military exercises in northern China, an “alliance” between the two countries was discussed.

>> View: “War in Ukraine: Russia asked for military assistance from China?”

Shortly before the start of the war in Ukraine, China endorsed the idea of ​​”limitless partnership” in a document signed with Russia, which was taken as a signal that an anti-Western front was being formed around the two powers. .

Beijing did not fail to categorically reject accusations of military rapprochement. “This is American disinformation,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, quoted by the Financial Times.

China’s denials aside, the US accusations are “surprising,” says Zeno Leoni, a Chinese foreign relations scholar at King’s College London contacted by France 24. First, because of the type of support China can give Russia on issues. “The information circulating at the moment is not clear. Are we talking about operational support, weapons or even equipment?” Antoine Bonda, a China security specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Studies (FRS), who was contacted by France 24, points out.

In addition, it is Russia that traditionally supplies China with weapons and military know-how, “and not vice versa,” recalls Zeno Leoni. In recent years, Moscow has even significantly increased arms sales to Beijing.

China’s People’s Liberation Army “in recent years has also sought to gain operational experience by conducting exercises with the Russian army,” recalls Zeno Leoni.

Ammunition or drones ?

But this does not mean that China will have absolutely nothing to help Moscow. First, “Russia is running out of cruise missiles and ammunition for its fighter jets,” says Gustav Gressel, a Russian military affairs specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations contacted by France 24. Two areas where China could theoretically. to help out the Russian war machine.

Beijing has also spent far more than Russia to modernize its marching army. So much so that the Chinese military has overtaken its older Russian brother in several areas. “This is especially true for drones, small warships and even hypersonic missile technologies,” Zeno Leoni lists.

I’m not sure that this sophisticated weapon is what Russia lacks the most right now. “Russia seems to suffer less from the problem of technological superiority or weaponry than from concern for organization, morale and communication,” notes a researcher from King’s College London.

At the limit, Chinese drones could “be used to support ground troops during the fighting in the city, which will intensify,” notes Zeno Leoni. But still, it is necessary to “have pilots who know how to handle these machines,” nuance Helena Legard, a Chinese defense specialist at the Institute of Sinology. Mercator (Merics) in Berlin, contacted by France 24. To spend weeks dealing with these drones will not help in the war that Russia wants to end quickly.

Embarrassing China

Even vehicles that are easy to use without training, such as trucks or weapons, “China is not interested in sending to Russia,” said Antoine Bonda. “She strongly condemned the supply of weapons to Ukraine by Western countries, I don’t see Beijing contradicting itself and doing the same with Russia,” emphasizes this China specialist.

“From the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, Beijing tried to be as neutral as possible, while trying to maintain diplomatic closeness to Russia. But by supplying weapons, China would clearly choose a side, which would have a political price. Importantly, especially worsening its relations with Europe,” sums up Helena Legarda.

>> Read also: “Between Russia and the West, China faces a “Ukrainian dilemma””

Sending military equipment to Russia also carries a technological risk for Beijing. “If we are talking, for example, about a drone or a missile, China will certainly not be happy about the idea that this advanced weapon is in danger of falling into the hands of Ukraine or Europe. [qui pourront ainsi les étudier]”, – evaluates the Merics specialist.

Not only China is not interested in arms supplies to Russia. Moscow, too, would have something to lose in this matter. “That would be a huge recognition of the weakness of the Russian army, because it means that it is not capable of defeating Ukraine alone,” notes Antoine Bonda.

He would not be surprised if Washington deliberately “leaked” this information in order to “sow doubt in the minds of the Russian military and create a sense of failure.”

This information “also confuses Beijing just before the meeting between Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi,” continues Antoine Bonda. The United States may try to use its allegations of Russia’s request for military assistance to “force China to go on record that it is not supplying weapons to Moscow,” said Helena Legarda. Then there are two scenarios: either China secretly supplies equipment to Russia, and if he is caught red-handed, he will be discredited in the international arena. Or she thought about it, and being forced to publicly defend her position, it will be more difficult for her than to act otherwise. Either way, this is a good deal for Washington.

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