A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 29, 2024

US May End Short-Range Hit Limits On Russia, Punish China For Tech War Supplies

The US finally appears to be falling in line with most NATO allies in permitting use of weapons it is supplying to hit assets inside Russia. These would be primarily short range military targets close to the Russian border with Ukraine. The US is also contemplating sanctions on China for defying global sanctions on military supplies to Russia, which it is doing by providing 'dual use' machine tools and microelectronics which can be used for industrial as well as military purposes.

The US motivation appears to be that China is gaming the system to Russia's advantage. Given the growing European opposition to Russian success in Ukraine, the US - which does not want to spark a global conflagration - has let itself be led by its allies so it is not perceived as war mongering. But in an election year, it may also be that polls are showing the Administration will benefit from a tougher stance. JL

David Ignatius reports in the Washington Post:

To combat Russia’s advances in Ukraine, President Biden is considering tough new countermeasures: punishing China for supplying key technology to Moscow and lifting limits on Ukrainian use of U.S. short-range weapons to attack inside Russia. These moves represent a significant escalation of Biden’s careful policy of supporting Ukraine while seeking to avoid direct confrontation. Even though China continues to refrain from “provision of actual arms,” China is supplying 70% of Russia’s "dual use" imported machine tools and 90% of imported microelectronics. Deepening US alliance with Kyiv would bolster Ukraine and rebalance the negotiating table

To combat Russia’s advances in Ukraine, President Biden is considering two tough new countermeasures: punishing China for supplying key technology to Moscow and lifting limits on Ukrainian use of U.S. short-range weapons to attack inside Russia.


These moves would represent a significant escalation of Biden’s carefully calibrated policy of supporting Ukraine while seeking to avoid direct confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his key ally, China’s Xi Jinping. The fact that such moves are being considered now shows the administration’s growing concern about Ukraine’s vulnerability on the battlefield.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken telegraphed a tougher stance after recent visits to Beijing and Kyiv. While in Beijing, he told the BBC in late April that China was “helping fuel the biggest threat to Europe” since the fall of the Soviet Union and indicated that the United States was weighing new sanctions against Chinese companies and financial institutions.


Blinken then visited Kyiv and heard firsthand accounts of Russia’s recent gains near Kharkiv and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. What he heard worried him enough that he urged administration colleagues to re-examine the prohibition on Ukraine firing American artillery and short-range missiles into Russia, U.S. officials told me and, separately, other journalists.


The threat of new sanctions against China is especially delicate because it comes at a time when both countries have been trying to stabilize their relationship. But U.S. officials are troubled that Beijing, while technically adhering to its pledge not to supply weapons to Moscow, has become the biggest enabler of Russia’s defense sector and its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

China’s growing assistance is clear in a report by Nathaniel Sher for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. By analyzing international customs data, Sher found that China was Russia’s largest supplier of 50 “high priority” dual-use items. The customs data also showed that China’s share of Russia’s imports of these goods had risen from 32 percent in 2021 to 89 percent last year.


Blinken told the BBC that these dual-purpose items “are being used to help Russia on what’s an extraordinary crash course effort to make more munitions, tanks, armored vehicles, missiles” — even though China continues to refrain from “provision of actual arms.” The secretary said China was supplying about 70 percent of Russia’s imports of machine tools and 90 percent of its imported microelectronics.

China is also providing Russia with satellite technology that can be crucial for communications and targeting in the Ukraine battlespace, according to the Royal United Services Institute, a British foreign policy think tank.

Xi has maintained his own balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, less than three weeks after he and Putin had declared a “no limits” partnership. China publicly called for a cease-fire, but Putin pleaded for weapons. They were ready for delivery when Biden called Xi to warn him that the United States would respond — drawing what officials told me was an angry riposte from Xi asking whether Biden was threatening him.


Since that showdown, Xi has refrained from direct weapons shipments. But U.S. officials said the Chinese leader directed Liu He, former vice premier and one of Xi’s most trusted negotiators with the West, to oversee quiet help for Russia’s war effort. At the same time, China has sent peace feelers to Ukraine and its European backers about an eventual settlement.


Ukraine’s vulnerability has increased partly because of the long delay in U.S. weapons shipments. While House Republicans dithered, Ukraine was forced to consider retreat. And many weapons the United States had hoped would bolster Ukraine — such as M1 Abrams tanks, HIMARS missile systems and F-16 fighter jets — proved vulnerable to Russian drones, electronic jamming and air defenses, respectively.

U.S. officials worry that Russia is massing troops and equipment just across the border inside Russia for its assault on Kharkiv and other cities in eastern Ukraine. U.S. artillery and short-range missiles could strike these targets without threatening deep strikes into Russia. But, for now, the United States restricts their use to inside Ukraine, so they aren’t able to strike the big Russian logistical and troop-marshalling centers just over the border. But that may be changing, as other NATO countries press Biden to loosen controls.


The loudest call for strikes inside Russia came this week from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “The front line is more or less the border line, and if you cannot attack the Russian forces on the other side of the front line because they are on the other side of the border, then of course you really reduce the ability of the Ukrainian forces to defend themselves,” Stoltenberg told a NATO parliamentary meeting Monday in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“The right to self-defense includes the right to strike legitimate military targets outside Ukraine,” Stoltenberg added. The NATO parliamentary group meeting in Sofia joined him in endorsing “lifting some restrictions on the use of weapons.

We might be nearing another inflection point in Ukraine. As China leans harder into its partnership with a newly dominant Russia, Biden is weighing whether to deepen his alliance with Kyiv. This would bring new risks, but it would make sense if it could bolster a wobbly Ukraine and rebalance the negotiating table, which is where this war must eventually be settled.


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