As Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has isolated him on the international stage – and Western sanctions have hit Russia’s economy – the president has been casting around for ways to alleviate the pressure and feed his war machine.
First it was China and President Xi Jinping. Mr Putin has consistently touted his good relationship with Mr Xi and has used that to get an economic lifeline from Beijing. In June, Chinese customs data showed that trade between the two nations was $93.8bn (£74.7bn) from January to May 2023, up 40.7 per cent when compared to the same period last year. The data also showed that China’s exports to Russia were $43bn (£34bn) from January to May 2023, up 75.6 per cent on the same period the previous year. A report from the Financial Times this week also said that China’s banks are extending billions of dollars of loans to Russian banks.
Mr Putin’s desperation was clear when he and Mr Xi met in March. The Russian leader did not just roll out the red carpet, but was at pains to point out just how close the two leaders were. For China, Mr Xi has loftier goals. He is trying to make his nation more of a diplomatic force on the global stage. However, claims from Beijing that it is neutral over the war in Ukraine and is merely seeking peace between the two sides are severely undermined by the level of economic support given to Moscow.