WASHINGTON – Initial US intelligence suggesting China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine was obtained from Russian government officials, according to a current and former US official familiar with the intelligence.
US officials then spent weeks corroborating information from other intelligence sources, current and former officials said, and with allies who also brought additional streams of information.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.
Multiple strands of intelligence suggesting China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia, including ammunition and artillery, raised alarm among Biden administration officials, particularly given that such a move by Beijing could shift the dynamics of the war in favor of Moscow.
“A Russian army fed or assisted by a Chinese infusion of weapons and platforms is militarily more lethal and more capable,” a senior administration official said. «That’s not going to be good for the people of Ukraine.»
Senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director Williams Burns, have publicly expressed confidence in the intelligence and warned China against providing Russia with lethal military aid.
China has denied that it is considering sending lethal aid to Russia and called the US accusation «disinformation.»
US officials say they have not seen any evidence of movement or a decision by China to take such a step.
At a White House news briefing on Thursday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked how seriously the administration believes China is about possible arms shipments to Russia.
«We don’t really know,» Kirby said.
Kirby added that the United States believes China hasn’t taken it off the table, but it also hasn’t seen any evidence that Beijing is moving toward sending lethal aid to Moscow.
The NSC declined to comment when contacted for this story.
Initial intelligence was vague about what specific systems or equipment China was considering providing Russia, including whether they could provide drones beyond those already commercially available, officials familiar with the intelligence said.
«There are different levels of confidence that China is serious about this,» said a second senior US official.
In an interview on Sunday CBS News’ «Face the Nation»Burns acknowledged that the decision to make the information public was intended to discourage China from deciding to provide lethal aid to Russia.
«We are confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment,» Burns said.
He added: «Secretary Blinken and the president have thought it important to make it very clear what the consequences of that would be.»
There was some discussion within the administration about declassifying and publicly releasing some of the intelligence, but officials decided not to, at least for now, because of the sensitivity of the sources used to collect the information and because the administration’s goal of sending a message to China not to provide Russia with lethal aid, for now, seems to have worked.
The US accusations that China is considering providing Russia with lethal military aid come as Beijing put forward a proposed peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.
President Joe Biden and other top US officials have said the proposal is one-sided and only benefits Russia. But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that China’s commitment to a potential peace plan is «not bad.»
Some Biden administration officials see recent signs by China that it might shelve the war in Ukraine and get involved one way or another as an attempted power move aimed at undermining the US after the 2010s. recent moves to enhance its alliances in Asia. -Pacific region.
Other officials warn that China has yet to make any decision on whether to get more involved and is still taking the same position since the start of the war a year ago.
“There are issues where we just know we won’t be able to see things on the level,” a senior US official said of the Biden administration’s relationship with China. «What we want to do, particularly when it comes to Ukraine, is make it one of those areas where we agree.»
In other words, the official said, one of the Biden administration’s goals is for China to recognize that «it’s not right for Russia to kill innocent Ukrainians, and no one should help them do it.»
Peter Nicholas, kristen welker, Andrea Mitchell, Monica Alba and they shine contributed.