Many Chinese artillery shells were used by the Ukrainian forces in the ongoing war against Russia. However, those weapons were not supplied by China—they came from Albania. This brings to light the history between the Communist Party of Albania (CPA) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the Cold War that many may have forgotten.
On Sept. 17, the Ukraine Weapons Tracker (UWT), a Twitter account that tracks developments in the Ukraine-Russia war, posted a video of weapons left behind by the Russian army, including several Chinese Type 63 60 mm mortar shells, which were seized by Ukrainian soldiers. The video shows that the shell body and the shell storage boxes have simplified Chinese characters printed on them.
The UWT said that the mortar shells seen in the video were made in 1975. However, the Russian army did not use 60 mm caliber mortars on the battlefield, so the shells were not provided by China but were probably seized by the Russian army from the Ukrainians and later recovered by the Ukrainians after the Russians retreated. The UWT suspects that the shells came from Albanian military aid to Ukraine, which started in March. Details of the aid were not disclosed.
From the mid-1950s to the late-1970s, relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Communist Party of Albania were close. The CCP touted the CPA as the “socialist beacon of Europe.”
Enver Hoxha, the Communist dictator of Albania at the time, saw that an alliance with the CCP would not only free them from Soviet control but also provide an opportunity to find a new patronage state. For Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, it would provide an opportunity to create a satellite state in Europe that would help the CCP to challenge Moscow’s strong position in the region. Thus, from 1960 onward, the two parties established a relationship of “comradeship and brotherhood.”
Moreover, according to memoirs from the Chinese state media Xinhua News reporter Hongqi Wang, the CCP provided 75 loans to the CPA from 1954 to 1978, with an agreed total of more than $1.4 billion, of which military funds accounted for more than 43 percent. Mr. Wang further explained that the CCP assisted the CPA with a total of 142 projects, of which 91 were completed, including new industrial sectors such as steel, fertilizer, alkali, glass, copper ore processing, paper, plastics, and the military industry, as well as additional projects in the power, coal, oil, machinery, light industry, textile, building materials, communications, and broadcasting sectors, greatly increasing the level of industrialization in Albania.
In addition, Geng Biao, who served briefly as the Chinese ambassador to Albania, mentioned in his memoirs that he was particularly concerned about aid to Albania. Since 1954, he explained, the CCP had provided nearly 9 billion yuan in economic and military aid to Albania. Adjusted for inflation, that is the equivalent of 900 billion yuan ($126.26 billion) today. Albania with a population of just over 2 million at the time was receiving more than $560 per capita in aid from China when China’s own income per capita was only $28 per year at the time. China was also experiencing three years of starvation during the Great Leap Forward, followed by economic collapse during the Cultural Revolution. In terms of military aid, Mr. Geng said that the number of military aid projects and the quantity of aid far exceeded the needs of Albania’s own national defense.
However, in the 1970s, the two Communist countries had a falling out in relations, especially after the CCP took the initiative to ease relations with the United States. In 1978, after 18 years of friendly relations, the CCP ended its economic support to Albania under the leadership of the new Chinese dictator Deng Xiaoping. Ending the alliance lead to the CPA accusing the CCP of “revisionism,” a term used by communists to brand those that are not loyal to the revolution.
Following the collapse of the Communist International and the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, Albania abandoned its one-party system in 1991, gradually democratized the country, joined NATO in 2009, and began importing more advanced weaponry from Western countries. This explains why old weaponry from the Soviet Union and China were no longer used and were therefore, donated to the Ukrainians during the 2022 Russian invasion.