In Ukraine war, China is helping tilt momentum in Russia’s favor, top U.S. spy says

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China has helped shift the battlefield momentum in Russia’s favor in Ukraine by providing it with components and other material needed to sustain its defense industry, the top U.S. intelligence official told senators Thursday.

Beijing’s assistance comes as Russian forces make incremental progress in Ukraine and Moscow attempts to ratchet up pressure on Kyiv by bombing the country’s critical infrastructure, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Although China has stopped short of delivering lethal weaponry to Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it has provided crucial technology and tools for its military machine, she said.

“China’s provision of dual use components and material to Russia’s defense industry is one of several factors that tilted the momentum on the battlefield in Ukraine in Moscow’s favor, while also accelerating a reconstitution of Russia’s military strength after their extraordinarily costly invasion,” Haines said.

The move was part of China’s aim to deepen its ties with both Russia and Iran, she said.

U.S. officials have said previously that China is supplying Russia with dual-use drone and rocket technology, satellite imagery and machine tools needed for its defense production. Dual use refers to items that can be used for civilian or military purposes.

On the war in Ukraine, Haines said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is calculating that current domestic and international trends are working in his favor compared to the challenges facing Ukraine, including the political difficulties for Kyiv as it tries to secure additional military aid from the United States and Europe.

Still, the war is “unlikely to end anytime soon,” she said.

Although Russia has indicated it is open to peace talks, Putin has made no indication that he is willing to make significant concessions, Haines said.

Russia also has remained focused on trying to influence and interfere with America’s elections, she said. Asked by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, if there were signs of increased activity by Russia aimed at the November election, Haines said “We continue to see them focused on this and increasingly so.”

China reluctant to escalate trade war

As for China, the leadership in Beijing appears focused on bolstering its sluggish economy and is unlikely to pursue major economic retaliation against the U.S., according to Haines.

“We remain of the view … that in the coming months, they are likely to limit the level of economic retaliation they engage in in order to avoid the domestic costs of such actions,” she said.

“In particular, the significant decline in foreign direct investment in China, down 77.5% in 2023, is likely to prompt the PRC to be more measured in their responses absent an unexpected escalation by the United States, rather than engaging in direct economic retaliation that might result in such negative domestic economic consequences,” Haines said, using the initialism for the People's Republic of China.

She added that Chinese President Xi Jinping is “increasingly concerned about the United States' ability to interfere with China’s technological goals.”

The Biden administration has imposed tough restrictions on the export of semiconductor technology to China, arguing it could be used to build up that nation's military.

Asked about the threat posed by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Haines said the groups appear to have suspended attacks on U.S. forces in the region, though it remains unclear how long the “pause” will last.

Haines said the groups’ actions would depend in part on the role of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, whose government maintains friendly relations with both the U.S. and neighboring Iran.

A series of retaliatory U.S. airstrikes against the militia groups in Iraq and Syria in February, which followed dozens of attacks by the militias on American troops, also had helped deter further attacks, Haines said.

“We do think, obviously, that the pause reflects a certain amount of deterrence that’s been established during this period,” she said. “But again, these factors can adjust.”

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