China and Russia are negotiating the sale of loitering munitions, also known as kamikaze drones, a report suggests.
According to the report, Chinese drone manufacturer Xi’an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology has agreed to produce and sell to Russia 100 ZT-180 drones that mimic the design of Iranian Shahed 136 drones, previously provided by Iran and used by Russia to strike targets in Ukraine.
The report was first published by German newspaper Der Spiegel, which claims to have obtained confidential information pertaining to the company’s plans.
Der Spiegel claims that the drones are due to be delivered by April 2023, while their shipping documents are expected to be falsified in order to conceal the transfer.
When asked about the report, Xi’an Bingo denied having any dealings with Russia and declined to comment further, according to Vice News.
China on the fence
China claims to have remained neutral in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supporting neither side.
On February 24, 2023, the Chinese government published its long-talked about ceasefire plan, which it claims would lead to the resolution of the conflict.
The plan calls for a stop to the hostilities and for international laws and norms to be observed, ostensibly cementing China’s own neutrality.
However, numerous previous reports have alleged that Chinese companies had agreed to provide or provided military and dual-use aid to Russia.
In June 2022, Chinese ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui said that China is ready to start delivering aircraft parts to Russia, despite international sanctions.
In early February 2023, The Wall Street Journal claimed to have obtained evidence that various Chinese companies had shipped fighter jet and military helicopter parts to Russia, in addition to various sanctioned dual-use technologies such as microchips and other electronics.
Chinese parts have also been found in Iranian drones that were used to attack infrastructure in Ukraine.
Short on drones
Numerous analysts argued that Russia is experiencing a shortage of precision weapons, having largely expended its stocks of cruise missiles, attack drones and other guided munitions during the first months of the war.
Subsequent attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, which started up in autumn 2022, have now largely subsided and investigations of missiles’ fragments indicate that these attacks have been unfolding at the same pace at which Russia can manufacturing such weapons.
In summer 2022, reports emerged that Iran is negotiating to supply Russia with domestically manufactured Shahed drones, including surveillance and kamikaze variants. The deliveries of the drones started several months later and led to widespread attacks on Ukrainian military and civilian targets.
Several subsequent shipments of the drones have been confirmed, with Russia reportedly bartering captured Western weaponry, Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and other equipment for Iranian munitions.