The value of Chinese imports of Russian fuels between March 2022 and February 2023 totaled nearly $89 billion, according to Chinese statistics. That compares with $57 billion in the year to February 2022.

Where Saudi Arabia was previously China’s largest source of oil, Russia has now taken that crown. Imports of Russian oil in January and February were 24% higher than in the same period last year, per government figures. And it’s a bargain for Chinese traders: They are snapping up sanctioned Russian oil at steep discounts.

The power imbalance of the Russia-China relationship

Russia is, no doubt, grateful to find a ready buyer for its sanctioned fuels. The extra earnings from its energy sales to China are helping Moscow replenish its war chest and plug a growing budget deficit. Meanwhile, China has also ramped up exports of computer chips and other technology products to Russia, as the Kremlin scrambles to keep its military sufficiently equipped.

But Moscow is also likely growing aware of its increasingly unbalanced relationship with Beijing. Russia is now far more economically and geopolitically dependent on China than vice versa.

Or, as the Financial Times quoted a person close to the Kremlin as saying: “The logic of events dictates that we fully become a Chinese resource colony. Our servers will be from Huawei. We will be China’s major suppliers of everything. They will get gas from [the pipeline] Power of Siberia. By the end of 2023 the yuan will be our main trade currency.”

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