BERLIN (Reuters) – Russia is in talks with a Chinese manufacturer about buying 100 drones by April, German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday, without naming specific sources.
In recent days, the United States, Germany and other Western countries have warned China against selling weapons to Russia in its war against Ukraine, saying any such move would have serious consequences.
Russia, besieged by heavy Western sanctions imposed in response to its attack on Ukraine, is believed to have bought weapons from Iran and North Korea, including drones from the former, but China has so far brushed aside.
Chinese drone manufacturer Xi’an Penghu Intelligent Flight Technology said it was ready to make 100 prototypes of its ZT-180 drone, which the magazine said could carry a warhead of between 35 and 50 kilograms, Der Spiegel said.
“I told China’s representatives that this cannot be accepted,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF earlier on Thursday when asked about less specific reports that China might help Russia.
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White House spokesman John Kirby, when asked about China’s public consideration of the weapons, said Washington has publicly and privately indicated its concerns.
“While there are indications that China may be considering offering lethal capabilities to Russia, we haven’t seen them make that decision, we haven’t seen them move in that direction,” Kirby told reporters at a briefing on Friday. “Frankly, China should not want to be concretely involved in that.”
Der Spiegel said the drone was similar to the Iranian Shahid-136, with which Russia launched countless attacks on Ukraine, killing hundreds of people and damaging civilian infrastructure.
The magazine also said that Bingo has plans to help set up a drone production site in Russia, where up to 100 drones can be made per month.
It added that there had been previous plans for a company controlled by the Chinese military to send spare parts to Russia for its SU-27 warplane.
Bingo did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The company was founded in 2017 by Ma Jingdong, a graduate of Northwestern Polytechnical University in China, and its drones have been used by China’s electric grid operator State Grid to carry out environmental monitoring work, according to an official WeChat account.
In November 2018, Bingo said it signed a strategic cooperation agreement with an online platform set up by Poly Technology Defense Investment, a unit of the state-owned China Poly Group that aims to support military trade and research in military equipment.
A procurement document released by the government of China’s far western Xinjiang region in August 2021 said that the drones developed by Bingo have been used in military exercises and described its technical strength as “first-class”.
Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Eduardo Baptista in Beijing, Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavy in Washington Editing by Kim Coghill and Matthew Lewis
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