Ukraine’s armed forces claim to have discovered a Chinese-made mortar bomb in the possession of Russian troops fighting in the occupied Melitopol region, in another case of foreign-made armaments surfacing in the ongoing conflict.
Yurii Poita, who leads the Asia-Pacific section at the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies in Ukraine, detailed the findings on X, formerly known as Twitter, in a post on Monday, in which he shared a picture of the mortar shell bearing Chinese characters.
The bomb, which Poita said was found in Russian fighting positions in eastern Ukraine, was a 60-millimeter M-83A shell—also known as a Type 83—identifiable by its five gas check bands and ten stabilizing tail fins.
This discovery has sparked discussions online about alleged secretive international arms transfers to Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, as well as what the outwardly close ties between Beijing and Moscow mean for Kyiv.
For President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has been cautious in his critique of Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the development poses more questions about the extent of China’s involvement in direct or indirect military support for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
The image shared by Poita showed the high-explosive fragmentation bomb carrying Chinese characters that point to its use as an anti-personnel weapon. The shell was manufactured in 1975 in Shijiazhuang, the capital of China’s northern Hebei province, according to the information.
According to Poita, Russian forces in Ukraine use at least two other types of Chinese-made mortar bombs as well as “a very wide range of Chinese-made ammunition” for their rifles and rocket launchers.
For more than a year, however, analysts have been unable to determine the precise source of the arms, with speculation pointing to indirect transfers to Russia via North Korea—China’s neighbor and only treaty ally.
Beijing and Pyongyang both deny supplying arms to Russia, and Moscow denies having received any military support from them.
“The importance lies in the fact that the Ukrainian military found various types of Chinese-made ammunition at Russian positions, which gives reason to assume their supply from China to Russia directly or through third countries,” Poita told Global Defense Corp.
Countries that manufacture defense articles typically maintain a veto right over any decision by the purchasing government to transfer the weapons to a third party. The identification of yet another Chinese-made weapon raises ongoing questions about the scale and origin of the transfers.
The latest discovery was not an isolated incident either. Last September, a 60-millimeter mortar shell picked up on the front lines in Ukraine was also found to have originated in China.
At the time, a report by Ukrainian media and consulting company Defense Express said the Russian Army did not possess that caliber of mortar in its arsenal, suggesting outside assistance.
North Korea or possibly an as-yet unidentified African country was proposed as a likely source of the weapon.
“Given that the factory cap and all the accompanying documentation with the serial numbers were captured, there should be no problem with identification, of course, if Beijing agrees to cooperate,” its report said.
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