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Russia’s last connection to maritime trade is China’s state-run shipping line

A container ship bearing the Cosco logo sails in the Bosphorus Strait near Istanbul.
Reuters/Murad Sezer
Cosco is Russia’s last link to maritime trade.
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero

Tech Reporter based in New York

Published

Nine of the world’s 10 biggest shipping lines have suspended service to Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Together, they represent two-thirds of global shipping, and their decision to cut ties with Russia will make it harder for the country to bring in its biggest imports, including cars, clothing, liquor, and wine.

But Cosco, China’s state-run shipping company, is throwing the Russian economy a lifeline. It’s the only major shipping line still operating in Russia.

Cosco’s continued presence in Russia is yet another subtle way that China is propping up the Russian economy as the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia impose harsh sanctions.

Cosco keeps Russia-China trade alive

Cosco is maintaining a shipping link between Russia and its largest trading partner, China. China is both the biggest exporter to Russia and the biggest importer of Russian goods, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data platform for economic activity. Retaining access to Chinese markets has helped Russia blunt some of the impact of global sanctions.

Cosco’s tanker fleet can continue to carry Russia’s biggest export, crude oil, to its biggest customer, China. Russian oil also flows into China via the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline, and Russia and China agreed in February to build a new gas pipeline linking the two countries.

But China and Cosco don’t meet all of Russia’s trade needs. Russia’s biggest import—cars—come from outside of China, mainly from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. The economic penalties may push Russia to become a bigger customer for China’s growing auto industry.

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