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Russian body armor on the battlefield in Ukraine has links to China

While it’s unclear if the Russian navy’s use of the Klass vests is widespread, it’s the first affirmation that Chinese-made protecting tools is being utilized by Russian troopers in Ukraine.

The new info highlights how Russia continues to rely on China for assist propping up its conflict effort in Ukraine regardless of western strain on Beijing to cut back its help for Moscow.

The revelation additionally raises questions on how the U.S. plans to handle with Beijing the difficulty of “dual-use items” — business tools that will also be used for navy functions.

“The administration has likely seen a lot of things in the record that are discomforting. But they could say ‘well, it is not a surface-air missile system so maybe we’ll just kind of look the other way on this,’” mentioned Ivan Kanapathy, the former director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the National Security Council. “The line is fuzzy by design. And the assessment is being influenced by the U.S.-China relationship, perhaps naively hoping that China isn’t already in the Russia camp,” Kanapathy mentioned.

The Biden administration has up to now been hyper-focused on stopping Beijing from sending massive quantities of weapons to Moscow — weapons that might considerably alter the course of the preventing on the floor.

But a sample could also be rising that implies the administration wants to look extra intently at dual-use objects. This month, POLITICO reported that Chinese companies linked to the Beijing government were sending business assault rifles, drone components and body armor to Russian entities. The drones have for months been seen on the battlefield.

The Treasury Department declined to remark. NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson mentioned the U.S. has imposed “extensive” sanctions and export controls towards firms which have enabled Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. “We will continue to take action against companies that provide support to Russia’s war effort,” Watson mentioned.

POLITICO reviewed dozens of photographs on social media websites and Google in addition to a number of movies printed on the Russian website VKontakte of Klass body armor components. The movies, together with one printed in November 2022, particularly present a glimpse into the manufacturing technique of the Klass body armor.

Antifragmentation fits, bulletproof vests and textiles and stacks of specialised fibers seem in the clips. The photographs, a few of which have been printed on eBay, present the absolutely constructed Klass vests being bought by Ukrainians who say they captured them on the battlefield in the final yr.

It was not clear when these Klass vests have been manufactured, or in the event that they included Chinese elements, however the import information reveals that it’s probably they did.

Klass, based mostly in Moscow, imported components for the manufacturing of its armored vests from China a number of occasions in 2022, together with in November and December from a number of Chinese firms, in accordance to the commerce and customs information. Those components included aramid fibers — the identical form of fibers discovered in Kevlar vests.

The Russian distributor has a long-standing enterprise relationship with Russia’s nationwide guard, the ministry of inner affairs, the federal penitentiary providers and different state navy items, the information reveals. In a press launch posted on its web site, Klass mentioned it presented its body armor products to the leaders of the ministry of inner affairs in November 2022.

The Chinese firms that shipped the merchandise embody Yantai Tayho Advanced Materials Ltd, a producer of specialised fiber, and Beijing Tongyizhong New Material Technology Corp, a vendor of polyethylene fiber merchandise, a subsidiary of one in every of Beijing’s state-owned investment holding corporations.

Neither Klass nor the two Chinese firms responded to a request to remark.

Klass body armor merchandise have beforehand been recovered from the battlefield in Ukraine earlier than Russia’s invasion in 2022, mentioned Lynn Hughes, an analyst on the analysis crew at Import Genius who first recognized the body armor elements being shipped from China. The Ukrainian military picked up a Russian ballistic vest manufactured by Klass in 2019, according to a report from Conflict Armament Research printed that very same yr.

Ukrainians who captured the Klass body armor on the battlefield in 2022 at the moment are making an attempt to promote them for cash. POLITICO contacted a number of sellers on eBay — all of whom mentioned they’d both served in Ukraine or knew somebody who did and that they’d taken the Russian vests straight from the battlefield.

“This bulletproof vest was used in the Russian army and was obtained by the Ukrainian military during the counter offensive in the Kharkiv region,” mentioned one in every of the sellers, who was granted anonymity for safety causes. “During the liberation of the city of Izyum in one of the houses where the [Russians] temporarily lived, they ran away so quickly that they abandoned their things.”

U.S. officers have mentioned they aren’t overly involved about these “dual-use” objects exhibiting up on the battlefield, as Russia has lengthy imported this type of expertise from China.

In response to a query about POLITICO’s preliminary report March 16 about Chinese firms sending assault rifles, drone components and body armor to Russia, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby described the relationship between the Chinese and Russian entities as “long standing.” He mentioned the U.S. had not seen proof that instructed the objects had ended up on the battlefield.

“We don’t want anyone to do anything that will help them kill more Ukrainians, period,” Kirby added.

But a few of the dual-use objects are getting used in preventing in Ukraine — and never all of the contracts are longstanding, in accordance to the information.

The 1,000 assault rifles the Chinese state-backed protection contractor despatched Russia in the summer time of 2022 marked the first time China’s North Industries Group Corporation despatched the distributor a big cargo of weapons. The final time it despatched the Russian distributor Tekhkrim rifles was in 2018, and it despatched solely two of them, in accordance to an evaluation of historic commerce information by C4ADS, a analysis group based mostly in Washington.

C4ADS has additionally studied the use of Chinese drones by Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine. The drones have been extensively reported and photographed as being deployed by Moscow throughout the conflict. The U.S. sanctioned one in every of the foremost Chinese suppliers of these drones final yr.

“The administration continues to downplay it because they’ve drawn a red line. Declaring that China has crossed that line is irreversible and necessitates a strong U.S. response. But not declaring it gives China wiggle room,” Kanapathy mentioned. “Xi Jinping is getting that sense, having pushed it little by little. And if the U.S. continues to say, ‘no, we haven’t seen a violation,’ then what is China’s takeaway?”

The Chinese embassy declined to remark.

The Biden administration should resolve which exports pose the greatest danger after which whether or not to penalize particular person sellers or take broader motion towards the Chinese authorities, a transfer that might carry broader financial penalties and nearly definitely invite retaliation from Beijing.

Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Commerce Department has imposed export restrictions on tons of of merchandise that include American-made elements or expertise and could possibly be used to help the Russian navy. It has additionally added a protracted checklist of firms, together with a number of based mostly in China, to a commerce blacklist as punishment for transport managed items to Russia.

And the Biden administration has sought to broaden its crackdown on Russia’s entry to applied sciences with U.S. elements that can be utilized for navy and business functions since the conflict entered its second yr. In February, the Commerce Department issued new restrictions on a range of products, together with toasters and low makers, in a bid to additional strangle the Kremlin’s provide of semiconductors.

But the merchandise listed in the Import Genius information probably don’t include U.S. supplies, making it tough for the administration to straight cease their cargo to Moscow. The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on some Chinese firms which have supported Russia’s efforts in Ukraine, however it’s not clear they’re eyeing the companies included in this report.

The Commerce Department declined to say whether or not its officers have been conscious that Chinese-made body armor has been used in Ukraine or have any fast plans to goal the firms concerned in their sale.

“We continually review reports of Russian military equipment used in Ukraine to assess whether there are actions we and our allies can take to impair Russia’s ability to produce or acquire such equipment,” mentioned Commerce Department spokesperson Jessica Stallone. “We will not hesitate to use all the tools at our disposal to obstruct the efforts of those who seek to support Putin’s war machine.”

William Reinsch, a former undersecretary of Commerce for export administration throughout the Clinton administration, argues it’s not possible for the U.S. to utterly lower Moscow off from many exports. Not solely are some foreign-made merchandise past the authorities’s attain, however the sale of illicit items will all the time be profitable sufficient to appeal to dangerous actors, mentioned Reinsch, who’s now at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“If your policy is zero leakage,” he mentioned, “then you’re doomed and you’re going to fail and you’re going to spend a lot of money trying to stop things that you won’t be able to stop.”

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