Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Beijing and Moscow have come close to each other economically. Visiting the Russia-China border shows what that means.
“I’ve been at the front for two months, and I’m finally getting back to my family,” the young man, dressed in camouflage, tells another youth, also dressed in green war suits. He tells us on the bus that takes us from the gate at Moscow Domodedovo Airport to the plane.
He says it loud enough for everyone to hear. Even if you fly thousands of kilometers from Ukraine, the so-called “special operations” of the Kremlin are always flying with you in Russia. We are going from Moscow to Blagoveshchensk. Seven hours flight from Moscow.
Chinese traders send love letters to Putin
The city of approximately 215,000 inhabitants is located on the banks of the Amur. Still frozen in March, Russian border guards roar on the ice in their green Buchanka. Because the river is also the border between Russia and neighboring China.
The Chinese city of Heihe welcomes you from the other side of the river. In the evening, with a flashing silhouette and a seductive light show. Chinese lamps and New Year’s messages hang on the wall at a wholesale factory in Blagoveshchensk. In the corner is an old portrait of the young Vladimir Putin. “We love it, that’s why it’s there,” says Han Hongyang.
Russia and China strengthen economic relations
Hongyang is Chinese and he’s the boss here. He has lived in Russia for about 30 years. Somehow it happened that way, she says over a cup of Chinese tea. Then he takes us through a large warehouse. Here you can find everything you need to build a house: fences, insulation materials, glass, machinery, metal as well as car parts. Anything and everything that sells well in Russia comes from China.
In the last year, the economic ties between the two countries have become even closer. “It’s good for us to have sanctions. The Russians have oil, we need oil and we need gas. We are friends with the Russians, so we help each other. We buy and sell. Russia buys a lot from China: technology, building materials, clothing,” he says happily.
Russian Oil to China – Chinese Goods to Russia
Russia no longer sells its oil to Europe, but to China. There is someone who takes advantage of low market prices. In contrast, Russia imports more goods from China because the country misses out on many things due to Western sanctions against Russia.
The exchange of goods between the two great powers increased by 30 percent in 2022. This can also be seen here in a parking lot in an industrial area in Blagoveshchensk. Here the trucks are imported from China and resold directly. Sitrak and XCMG instead of MAN or Volvo. The parking lot is full of Chinese commercial vehicles. Excavators and hauliers are also listed here. But car dealer Denis Kusmichow says the parking lot is pretty empty right now.
Car dealers: Chinese brands have European components
“It’s just the rest of the vehicles. We deliver a few trucks every day. Some days, dozens,” says Kuzmitschow. And then the cell phone rings again. The next expectation.
“All the sad events here have had an impact on the growth of sales. Because the sanctions restrict the import of vehicles of European brands. Initially, many were upset that the Europeans were leaving the market, but the Chinese manufacturers made great efforts to improve the quality. A lot of European components are used there and customers are very satisfied lately. ” said.
Russian economists were against dependence on China
In Blagoveshchensk, people tend to look more east than west. Europe is far away. A new highway bridge connecting the two cities should also stimulate trade.
Economists such as Vladislav Inosmtsev warn that Russia has become too dependent on its powerful neighbor and that its own economy is not as strong as claimed. “Don’t believe Putin when he says the Russian economy is recovering. It’s a complete lie. But China won. This year it has tied Russia very tightly and has become an inevitable buyer for a long list.”
Russian border town expects more Chinese tourists
They are not afraid of too much Chinese influence or economic dependency in Blagoveshchensk. After the long hiatus caused by Corona in Blagoveshchensk, they are hoping for Chinese tourists to come back to the city.
And Han Hongyang, an entrepreneur at the construction company, hopes that peace will soon prevail in Ukraine. “If there is war, it is bad for everyone.”
Christian Semm is a reporter at the ZDF studio in Moscow.
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I am Timothy Glover, a professional journalist and content creator. I specialize in writing and editing for news websites, specifically covering politics. I have been working as an author at News Unrolled for the past five years and have built up a reputation for producing quality content that is both informative and engaging.