China has increased shipments of advanced machine tools to Russia tenfold since the invasion of Ukraine. Shipments of CNC units, used for precise metal milling, have become a big concern to Ukraine’s allies as they seek to crack down on Russia’s access to the equipment. Chinese companies now dominate trade in high-precision “computer numerical control” devices vital to Moscow’s military industries. Russian imports of CNC tools from the EU have dramatically fallen since February 2022. The US imposed sweeping sanctions on all significant Russian importers of CNC tools. Beijing insists it does not ship lethal weapons to Moscow and denies supporting its neighbour’s war effort, but also rejects the use of sanctions. The median price to Russia of a basket of Chinese goods that could support its war effort rose by 78%. Instances of Chinese CNC devices being used in Russia is unclear. One analyst suggests that Russian defence plants are only “beginning to use Chinese CNC machine tools”. It would be “almost impossible” to use a Chinese CNC machine in a plant that had based its production around a tool from another producer with different specifications. Preference among defence manufacturers for equipment from other countries may reflect skepticism about the quality of Chinese machines.

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