What could Chinese artillery and ammunition mean for Putin’s war in Ukraine?

While it was difficult to ascertain the current level of ammunition stocks at Russia’s disposal, O’Brien said, “They certainly have used far more than they were originally thinking.”

Russia was firing about 20,000 artillery rounds a day, a senior U.S. official told NBC News in November. Even Russia’s own mercenary force, the Wagner Group, has accused Moscow of starving them of shells. In November, U.S. officials also said North Korea was covertly supplying Russia with a large number of artillery shells, which, according to experts, suggested Russia was indeed running out.

“All the artillery you have are just empty tubes if you can’t fire ammunition from” them, said Frank Ledwidge, senior lecturer of law and strategy at University of Portsmouth.

“We can absolutely guarantee that this would extend the artillery capabilities of Russia into next year at the very least even if they don’t give anything else,” Ledwidge added.

But “Beijing is stuck in a tricky position,” said Fiala.

While China has refrained from condemning the invasion and last week put forward a peace plan that was quickly dismissed by the West, it has so far practiced a careful balancing act.

Russia’s victory and stability was ultimately in Chinese interests, Fiala said, but Western sanctions that could be imposed if it did step up its support may make Beijing think twice.

Kyiv will undoubtedly be watching closely, and perhaps renewing its bid for increased support from its own allies, experts said.

The “Ukrainians will probably use it as an argument for their NATO backers to say you’ve got to get us more, quickly, before the Chinese really start giving the Russians real support,” said O’Brien.

Leila Sackur contributed.

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