November 16, 2023 | Policy Brief

Washington Should Sanction Chinese Companies Providing Vehicles to Russian Military 

November 16, 2023 | Policy Brief

Washington Should Sanction Chinese Companies Providing Vehicles to Russian Military 

Moscow revealed last week that its military has received over 500 Chinese-made off-road vehicles and soon plans to get nearly 1,600 more. This is not the first time that Russian forces have acquired Chinese-made vehicles in recent months, yet Washington has not punished these Chinese companies. 

On November 10, the Kremlin announced that Vladimir Putin had visited Russia’s Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, which also houses the headquarters of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. There, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top military officials briefed Putin on the war’s progress. The Russian president was also “shown new military equipment models,” the Kremlin said. 

In footage aired on state media, Shoigu introduced Putin to the Desertcross 1000-3, a utility task vehicle (UTV) made by a China-based firm called Shandong ODES Industry Co., Ltd. An accompanying placard said Russia’s military has already received 537 of these vehicles and will acquire 500 more in December 2023 and another 1,090 in the first quarter of 2024. In total, Moscow will pay nearly 4.2 billion rubles, or $47 million, the placard said. 

While Shandong markets the Desertcross 1000-3 as intended for civilian use, the placard notes the vehicle’s usefulness for reconnaissance, patrols, raids, search and rescue operations, and transporting supplies across rugged terrain. Shoigu told Putin that the vehicles are “extremely in demand” among Russian troops. 

On the battlefield in Ukraine, the pervasiveness of reconnaissance drones, coupled with the threat from loitering munitions and artillery, complicates vehicle movement near the front line. As Russian troops and bloggers have observed, traditional vehicles quickly draw enemy fire when attempting to deliver supplies to frontline positions. UTVs and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), by contrast, are more inconspicuous, nimble, and better suited to forested or swampy terrain. 

Consequently, both sides frequently employ UTVs and ATVs for forward-edge logistics and to evacuate wounded troops. Mobile anti-tank teams and scouts also commonly use UTVs and ATVs. (Some Russian units, particularly special forces, fielded ATVs even before the full-scale war, as did Ukrainian units.)  

However, Russian forces need more of these vehicles. While the Soviets produced a frontline transporter called the LuAZ-967M, it has long since left service in Russia. Russian authorities and volunteers frequently purchase UTVs and ATVs for Russian units but usually on a small scale. Various Russian companies have stepped in to try to meet the need, yet demand still outstrips supply. 

Bulk purchases of the Desertcross 1000-3 will help Moscow fill that gap. Moreover, according to the placard shown by Russian state media, the Desertcross 1000-3 offers over 50 percent more load capacity than the Russian-made AM-1. 

The Desertcross 1000-3 is not the first Chinese-made vehicle to enter service with Russian troops. Since June 2023, “Tiger” 4×4 armored vehicles, produced by China’s Shaanxi Baoji Special Vehicles Manufacturing Co., Ltd., have appeared in service with Chechen units.  

Notably, the Tigers appeared to be missing their weapons. At least some of the vehicles later received grenade launchers, although the Russians may have added them on themselves. The Chinese may have withheld the weapons to avoid crossing the line between lethal and non-lethal aid. 

Although China is a key supplier of components for Russia’s defense-industrial base, Beijing has apparently refused Moscow’s request for lethal assistance such as artillery shells. The Chinese are likely keen to avoid the Western punishment and reputational damage that might result from sending Russia lethal aid. 

However, the Chinese companies who provided these vehicles may have already violated U.S. sanctions if they transacted with or otherwise materially supported U.S.-designated Russian entities — even if those dealings involved non-lethal goods. A stern warning from Washington could deter further deliveries by the Shandong company, which has a U.S. subsidiary based in California. 

While they might technically be “non-lethal,” vehicles used to carry Russian troops or supplies ultimately help Russia kill Ukrainian soldiers and occupy Ukrainian territory. Washington should not let these Chinese firms go unpunished for aiding Russia’s war machine. 

John Hardie is the deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power and Center on Economic and Financial Power. For more analysis from John and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow John on X @JohnH105. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CMPP and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. 


China Military and Political Power Russia Ukraine