LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - British defence minister Grant Shapps accused China on Wednesday of providing or preparing to provide Russia with lethal aid for use in its war against Ukraine.

Western nations have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons and aid since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022. Britain for the first time is accusing China of working to supply Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine.

Shapps told a conference in London that U.S. and British defence intelligence had evidence that "lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine, I think it is a significant development".

Shapps did not provide evidence to support his assertion. But he said there had been a 64% increase growth in trade between the countries since the start of the Ukraine and "they are covering each other's back".

"We should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war China would like to present itself as a moderating influence on" Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added.

The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Shapps' remarks.

China is backing Russia's war effort in Ukraine by providing Moscow with drone and missile technology, satellite imagery and machine tools, senior U.S. officials said last month.

The Chinese embassy in the U.S. said last month Beijing had not provided weaponry, adding that it is "not a producer of or party involved in the Ukraine crisis".

Putin visited China earlier this month, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged a "new era" of partnership that proclaimed opposition to the United States on a host of security issues and a shared view on everything from Taiwan and Ukraine.

Russia and China proclaimed a "no limits" relationship just days before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but Beijing avoided providing actual weapons and ammunition for Russia's war effort.

Shapps said Russia, China, Iran and North Korea had been emboldened by what he called a quarter of a century of "western timidity" towards repression at home and aggression abroad.

He said it was time for the "world to wake up" and that meant all NATO members should start spending 2.5% of their gross domestic product on defence.

Photo from Reuters