Give credit where credit is due: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan masterfully declassified intelligence ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in order to take the wind out of the sails of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s propaganda. Thanks to the exposure of Putin’s intentions, not only the American audience but also much of the wider world recognized Russia as the aggressor and Ukraine as the victim. This held true even in countries like Iran where, despite their government’s support for Putin, ordinary people overwhelmingly see Ukraine as the victim and draw parallels between their own experience during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and what Ukrainians experience today.
The juxtaposition of that decision to declassify intelligence stands in sharp contrast with Sullivan’s silence on the growing evidence that China now supplies Russian forces with military equipment.
There is evidence, for example, that Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen Forces which operate under the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and fight in Ukraine now operate China Tigers, an armored personnel carrier built by China’s Shaanxi Baoji Special Vehicles. Kadyrov posted photos of the Tigers on his Telegram account.
Kadyrov’s exposure, whether deliberate or inadvertent, suggests that Chinese authorities have, after lengthy discussion and despite repeated Biden entreaties, approved military transfers to Russia.
There should be certainty as to the intelligence. China and Russia share a 2615-mile land border, 1,000 miles longer than the U.S.-Mexico frontier. Presumably, the US intelligence community uses satellites and other means to watch this border and especially the more limited areas over which such transfers might occur. For the White House to remain silent on such transfers suggests either an intelligence failure or a desire to cover up reality. Suppose Sullivan’s previous intelligence exposure was meant to rally support for action. In that case, his silence on the start of China’s supply to Russia reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the failure of his approach to the People’s Republic.
Any transfer of weaponry from China to Ukraine would be significant, and it would likely mean the war is nowhere near concluding. China has huge stockpiles and any infusion to Russian forces might increase their ability to grind Ukraine down in the war of attrition, despite Ukraine’s better moral and the Russian army’s incompetence.
The fact that the Tigers can reach speeds of 70 miles per hour and have a range of over 300 miles is significant. It will also likely mean Ukraine will need more weaponry to counter the capability.
That said, there is a silver lining to any transfer of Chinese weaponry to Russia for use in Ukraine. The Arab-Israel wars allowed the United States to measure the effectiveness of its aircraft and armor against Soviet equivalents in a way no exercise could. In 1982, for example, Israeli F-15s and F-16s shot down more than 80 Syrian MiGs. There was no better indication to Soviet leaders that they could no longer keep up with America’s military industrial base and technological innovation.
While Ukrainians deserve better than to be a laboratory for great powers testing weaponry and platforms, the reality is that the Pentagon will now see how equipment in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers holds up against Chinese-manufactured systems. Once again, let us hope that Sullivan’s commitment to transparency is not fleeting for, if the Chinese vehicles and perhaps aircraft prove resilient, the danger will be grave for two reasons:
First, Chinese assessments of the fight in Ukraine might color Beijing’s decisions with regard to Taiwan just as the Soviet/Syrian debacle in Lebanon gave President Ronald Reagan to roll back Soviet proxies in Grenada and elsewhere. Second, maintenance of American primacy would also require an end to business as usual in terms of military acquisition and budgeting, no matter how much Biden and both Congressional Democrats and Republicans might prefer the status quo.
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).