Hundreds of Thousands Protective Gear and Drones Flow From China Into russia Unrestricted

Illustrative photo: russian bulletproof vests found by Ukrainian forces / Photo credit: Defense Intelligence of Ukraine
Illustrative photo: russian bulletproof vests found by Ukrainian forces / Photo credit: Defense Intelligence of Ukraine

China sends "enough gear to equip an army" to the russian federation labeling helmets and vests as dual-use equipment

New findings by Politico show China secretly supplies large amounts of materials and equipment that could be used for waging war on Ukraine. The shipments contain bulletproof vests, helmets, and camera drones.

The journalists analyzed customs declarations in a way similar to their previous investigation of how American sniper ammunition finds its way to russia. The military-grade goods often hide behind "harmless" names like "airsoft helmets" or "miscellaneous ceramics" which later turn out to be helmets and body armor plates in the warzone of the russo-Ukrainian War. Video for illustrative purposes only, to show russian own "equipment":

Read more: US Sniper Ammo Still Finds its Way to russia: Sanctions Evasion Scheme Uncovered

This year alone, russia imported more than USD 100 million worth of drones, USD 225 mln worth of ceramics, and USD 100 mln worth of thermal optical devices. Importantly, this is 30 times more drones than Ukraine imported from China over the same period. The other figures also show the disparity between supplies to the russian federation and to Ukraine.

Politico describes the issue as a "China-sized loophole in Western sanctions" because to make these deliveries happen, russia uses swarms of resellers, distributors and so-called "one-day firms" to conceal the end user of these products.

Journalists identified multiple recently established companies who had their sales skyrocket after the beginning of the russian invasion or created when the war was already in full swing. For example, the Silva company who ordered 100,000 bulletproof vests and 100,000 helmets in 2023, was established in September last year, reported zero revenues for 2022 in the customs documents, and has its main office in an apartment block.

Other suspicious companies identified by Politico are Rika, Legittelekom, Pozitron, Nebesnaya Mekhanika. When reached out, they either do not comment or use typical replies about their products being used for entirely peaceful purposes.

Illustrative photo: such "harmless" quadcopters become weapons in the russian hands after a primitive modification with explosives / Photo credit: Border Guard Service of Ukraine

Some of them still position themselves as official distributors of Chinese products and keep them listed on their catalogs. Nebesnaya Mekhanika files copter drones made by Chinese DJI despite the latter having publicly cut ties with both russia and Ukraine due to the war. However, some of the drones manufactured by the company find their way to the war theater.

Amateur FPV attack drone manufacture in russia
Amateur FPV attack drone manufacture in russia, the source material is primitive quadcopters / Open source photo

The only way to stop the covert supplies is to tighten the sanctions regime which still sees dual-use products as eligible for exporting to russia, Politico notes.

"Yet there’s little the West can do to twist Beijing’s arm into halting flows of dual-use products into Russia. Only the United States would have the real power to impose an outright ban on dollar-denominated transactions — as Washington did when it sanctioned Iran over its secret nuclear program," the authors write, adding that it requires political will from both the US and the EU.

On the bright side, there were cases when pointing out particular schemes and loophole companies led to imposing new sanctions on them, and it made the rest of them worry about themselves. Such as in March, Politico exposed a company called Tekhkrim who was importing Chinese assault weapons labeling them as "hunting rifles" which led to the firm being sanctioned by the United States.

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