Largely cut off from Europe since its offensive against Ukraine, Russia has massively reoriented its economy towards China, at the risk of finding itself with Beijing in an “unbalanced” relationship and in a position of weakness.
Three weeks before the start of the Kremlin's intervention in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping brandished a "limitless" partnership between Russia and China. The message: to appear as a counterweight to the West.
Since then, trade has exploded, despite international sanctions and the departure of many foreign companies from Russia. Bilateral trade reached 190 billion dollars last year, according to Chinese customs, a record.
The share of the yuan in the currencies used for Russian foreign trade has also soared, rising in one year from 0.5% to 16%, and in the process leading to the spectacular reduction of the euro and the dollar in Russian exports. (48% now).
In terms of energy, their main source of trade, Moscow and Beijing have also accelerated their rapprochement.
“China and India have replaced the EU as the main export markets” for Russian oil, representing “in the fourth quarter (2022), together with Turkey, two-thirds of total Russian crude exports” , explain economists of the Association of the major world banks and financial institutions (IIF).
"It is absolutely critical for Russia to be close to China, because it no longer has many economic partners" of size, observes Elina Rybakova, one of them, questioned by AFP.
According to Sergei Tsyplakov, an expert in Russian-Chinese economic relations at the High School of Economics in Moscow, in one year, "the Chinese have taken on the Russian market the niches freed up by Western companies", particularly in the automobile industry.
"It was necessary for Russia to find alternative sources of imports, especially for electronic components", explains Anna Kireïeva, of the prestigious Moscow school of international relations MGIMO.
But, she told AFP, "in fact, large Chinese companies that are well integrated into Western markets and the global financial system, such as Huawei or ZTE, have preferred to pause their activities in Russia to avoid possible American sanctions".
So, marriage of convenience or lasting economic alliance?
"Putin wants a balanced relationship with China, like twins, but that's not the case," said BlueBay analyst Timothy Ash.
"Russia has no other choice" than to turn to China, he told AFP.
"The stability of the Russian economy now depends on China, which gives Beijing a new instrument to influence Russia directly", analyzes for his part Temour Oumarov, specialist in Sino-Russian relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. .
An observation, however, disputed by the Kremlin. "In these relations, there is no leader, no follower," assured Vladimir Putin's diplomatic adviser, Yuri Ushakov, on Friday, referring to "two partners who trust each other and largely share the same objectives".
However, many logistical problems remain to further develop this partnership.
The railway lines in the Russian Far East "are already saturated", explains to AFP Ms. Kireïeva. "And their modernization will take time."
Ditto for the infrastructure of the region intended for hydrocarbons, such as the Russian oil port of Kozmino, on the coast of the Sea of Japan.
Not to mention that Moscow must currently grant significant discounts on its oil, targeted since last December by an embargo and the capping of its selling price by the West.
The consequences are already being felt on the Russian budget: Moscow's oil revenues plunged 42% year on year in February, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while Russia is more or less still marketing the same volume.
What further weakens the Russian position vis-à-vis Beijing?
"The two powers are competitors beyond being supposed allies", recalls Timothy Ash. "Beijing likes to see a Russia weakened in order to be able to exploit it".
"We are only at the beginning of the process of economic dependence of Moscow vis-à-vis China", resumes for his part Temour Oumarov. "But in several years or decades, this economic lever could turn into an even more powerful political lever".
03/19/2023 06:43:06 - Moscow (AFP) - © 2023 AFP