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2 Jul 2024

Alberto Nardelli,
Jennifer Jacobs,
Alex Wickham, Bloomberg

Chinese cos. develop attack drones for Russia similar to Iranian model used in Ukraine, according to EU officials

US allies allege China is developing attack drones for Russia, 2 July 2024

Chinese and Russian companies are developing an attack drone similar to an Iranian model deployed in Ukraine, European officials familiar with the matter said, a sign that Beijing may be edging closer to providing the sort of lethal aid that western officials have warned against.

The companies held talks in 2023 about collaborating to replicate Iran’s Shahed drone, and started developing and testing a version this year in preparation for shipment to Russia, said the officials, who asked not to be identified to discuss private information. The Chinese drones have yet to be used in Ukraine, they said.

Providing Russia a Shahed-like attack drone would mark a deepening of Beijing’s support for Russia despite repeated warnings from the US and its allies. President Xi Jinping has sought to portray China as neutral in the conflict in Ukraine even as western officials say it’s provided components and other support for President Vladimir Putin’s forces.

At the same time, US officials have said China is holding off directly providing weapons and artillery, something that would signal an unprecedented escalation and almost certainly trigger more forceful action — such as sanctions — against the world’s second-biggest economy...

China doesn’t provide weapons to the parties of the Ukraine conflict and strictly controls exports of dual-use articles, Liu Pengyu, the spokesman for China’s embassy in the US, said in a statement.

“On the Ukraine crisis, it is quite clear to the international community who is calling for dialogue and striving for peace, and who is fueling the fight and inciting confrontation,” Liu said. “We urge the relevant countries to immediately stop fueling the fight and inciting confrontation”...

...Russia still relies on countries like North Korea and Iran for supplies, and on China for critical parts and components. One worry is that China could produce a drone similar to the Shahed at a far greater rate than Iran or Russia, the officials said.

The officials didn’t identify the drone under development, but Chinese defense websites and several media outlets have reported the country is developing a kamikaze attack drone called the Sunflower 200, which is described as similar in appearance to the Iranian Shahed 136 drone...