A Chinese-manufactured drone was shot down by soldiers last weekend in eastern Ukraine.
Soldiers from the 111th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine and situated near the city of Sloviansk shot down the Mugin-5 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with AK-47s at about 2 a.m. March 10, according to CNN.
China's role in the Russia-Ukraine war, which began on February 24, 2022, has caused concern for the United States and NATO countries because of the potential to provoke a grander worldwide response should it become more heavily involved—even potentially leading to a World War III scenario.
China to this point has remained relatively neutral and called for Russia and Ukraine to execute a ceasefire and peaceful resolution, including a 12-point peace plan drawn up by Chinese officials. The plan was acknowledged by top Kremlin officials, who have remained reticent about peace negotiations while demanding their own stipulations.
The reported downed drone came the same week that Russian fighter jets caused a U.S. drone to go down in the Black Sea, considered international waters.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed the downed drone, telling CNN that agents in Russian-held territory alerted them to the blinking UAV shot down while flying at a low altitude.
"From the sound, from the signal light, the troops fired a lot at it and knocked down the UAV," 35-year-old Ukrainian fighter Maksim told CNN, adding that Ukrainian units routinely conduct aerial reconnaissance.
Officials at Mugin UAV, the manufacturer of the drone based in Xiamen on China's eastern coast, told CNN that the retrofitted and weaponized drone belonged to them and called the incident "deeply unfortunate," adding in a statement, "We do not condone the usage. We are trying our best to stop it."
In a statement published March 2 on its website, the manufacturer said that "UAV platforms shall not be used for any military purposes." That includes condemning attached weapons and explosives to its UAVs, and not providing after-sale service for military purposes.
"From the moment Mugin first opened its doors, we have remained steadfast in one goal: designing UAV platforms for the betterment of humanity," the statement read. "With that being said, we want to reinforce the fact that we absolutely condemn the use of our UAV platforms for military purposes."
The company has also reportedly ceased accepting orders from Russia and Ukraine.
Samuel Bendett, Russia analyst for the Center for Naval Analyses, told Newsweek that Russia claims that Ukraine uses the same Mugin drones for long-range strikes into Crimea and Russia proper.
Whether or not the drone's use was perpetrated intentionally by Russians or the Chinese could have broader implications, said Rajan Menon, director of the Grand Strategy Program at Defense Priorities and nonresident scholar in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The Chinese are of two minds: On the one hand, they see the war going badly for the Russians and they don't want to be associated with failure," Menon told Newsweek. "On the other hand, they don't want to see Russia lose."
Russia failing militarily could allow the U.S. to pivot more toward Asia with less thought to Europe, he added, saying that it's paradoxical for a country to encourage peace negotiations while also theoretically offering weapons to one of the conflict's main combatants. Additionally, arming Russians would rule out China as mediators and align them with a potentially failed conquest.
"If the drone was given by the Chinese to Russians, this is a sign of things to come," Menon said. "What makes it tricky is they've tried to assert themselves a peacemaker, albeit with a plan that makes them favor Russia."
Newsweek reached out to Mugin and the Russian Defense Ministry by email for comment.