Russian PM to attend business forum in China as bilateral trade rises

Russia’s prime minister Mikhail Mishustin is to head a high-profile delegation to a business forum in China next week as Moscow’s economic dependency on Beijing grows, more than a year into its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Mishustin and Russia’s top energy official Alexander Novak, who are under western sanctions over the invasion, will be the most prominent Russian figures at the Russia-China Business Forum in Shanghai on May 23rd, according to people familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for Mishustin did not respond to a request for comment.

Top state company officials including Sberbank’s Herman Gref and Rostelecom’s Mikhail Oseevsky, who are also sanctioned, plan to attend, they added, as does a group of businessmen from Russian industrial companies.

A list of people applying for visas to attend the forum includes figures such as agricultural billionaires Andrei Guryev Jnr and Vadim Moshkovich, who are sanctioned, as well as Russia’s richest woman, the ecommerce billionaire Tatiana Bakalchuk, who is not. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The event is expected to underscore China’s growing support for president Vladimir Putin after western nations passed sweeping sanctions in response to the invasion that cut Russia off from global markets and crucial supply chains.

A draft programme for the forum, seen by the Financial Times, outlines Russian and Chinese plans to increase economic co-operation in areas from agriculture and transport to energy, industry, and tech.

Russia’s bilateral trade with China hit $190bn in 2022, a new record, and grew 39 per cent year on year to $54bn in the first quarter of this year. The renminbi has also taken on an increasing role in Russia’s payments after western sanctions left it largely unable to use the dollar.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, made a state visit to Moscow in March just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges — a strong sign that Russia continues to enjoy Beijing’s backing.

China has helped keep Russia’s economy afloat by ramping up purchases of its oil, while Chinese companies have stepped in to replace western suppliers or procure sanctioned western-made components for Russian companies on the black market.

But Xi’s visit also highlighted the extent to which Russia’s economic reliance on China has made it the junior partner in the relationship. Xi’s two-day summit with Putin yielded no major agreements and conspicuously failed to make visible progress on finalising the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, which Russia hopes will help reroute some of the gas exports it no longer sends to Europe.

Some of its difficulties were on display in instructions to attendees on booking flights to Shanghai. State airline Aeroflot is offering flights on a Boeing 777, one of the western-made planes Russian airlines are struggling to service under sanctions.

The visit will be the first trip to China for Mishustin, who became Russia’s prime minister shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020. During his visit to Moscow in March, Xi told Mishustin to “visit China as soon as possible” in order to “establish close ties” with Li Qiang, China’s new prime minister.

Xi indicated that Russia and China would revise a practice, held before China limited most international contact during the pandemic, whereby the countries’ presidents and prime ministers would exchange visits in alternating years. He also said that China expected Putin to attend the third summit of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative this year.

Bloomberg News first reported on Mishustin’s planned trip.