How Russia uses China to get round sanctions: research by The Bell

What’s going on?

After the invasion of Ukraine, Due to sanctions, Russia has lost free access to Western high-tech imports. The situation was saved by a rapid turn to the East – over the past two years, the country has sharply increased supplies from China, not only of cars and household appliances, but also of dual-use goods that are needed by the Russian military industry. Under sanctions, the volume of Chinese exports to Russia reached a record $111 billion at the end of 2023, according to Chinese customs data analyzed by The Bell. This is 47% more than in 2022 and 65% more when compared with pre-war 2021. High-tech goods are among the top three Chinese exports to Russia. That’s no surprise: under sanctions, many Russian companies had to find new sources of equipment, spare parts, electronics and vehicles. In 2023, Russia significantly increased its imports of computers from China, as well as compressors, machine tools and their spare parts, turbines, optical devices and other advanced manufacturing equipment.

Military exports

But China has not just increased its exports of purely civilian and consumer products. Exports to Russia of dual-use goods increased by at least $1 billion during 2023, The Bell calculated.

Exports can be analyzed both by the narrowest categories of goods (their specific name, for example, microprocessors), and by broader ones (computers and their components). Thus, among the broadest categories, supplies of Chinese vehicles and parts for them grew the most in 2023 – by 258%. After studying the dynamics in this category in more detail, the largest growth in it was among passenger cars – in 2023, their supply volume increased by 594% year-on-year. If in 2022 Russia was not the most important partner for China, in 2023 everything changed. The Russian direction has become of medium importance for the PRC, and its importance is only growing. Thus, in 2022, Russia was in 16th place in the total volume of Chinese exports – China exported more goods even to such non-obvious destinations as Mexico and the Netherlands. But in 2023, Russia jumped straight to seventh place in terms of export volume. China exported more only to the USA, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India. In Feb. 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that state and private enterprises in China were supplying dual-use goods to sanctioned Russian companies. In particular, navigation equipment for Mi-17 military transport helicopters, parts for Su-35 fighter jets, and radars and antennas for RB-531BE jamming systems, an electronic warfare tool, were supplied from China.

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