Today on Ukraine: The Latest, we bring you updates from the battlefront, hear more live from the UN, and analyse what’s happening in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Joining the podcast today is Senior Fellow from the Atlantic Council, Joseph Webster, who specialises in energy geopolitics. Through his work, he has noticed significant trading of ball bearings through Central Asia and maps out that journey:
So you hear a lot of discussion about ‘cutouts’ where Chinese exports are not necessarily going directly to Russia, but they are being shipped through intermediate countries such as Turkey, such as Central Asia, such as Belarus.
One of the more interesting patterns of trade we see is regarding Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian country with historically close ties with Russia. A lot of Russian speakers there [and it] also borders China.
Something which I find fascinating is Chinese exports of ball bearings to Kyrgyzstan are up about 2, 550% from from 2021 levels. And ball bearings are important because they’re used to separate two bearing rings, reducing friction, supporting loads. They’re useful for both rail cars as well as military tanks.
He continues, unpacking where this increase could originate from:
It’s possible that there’s some sort of reason in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic market, why involving imports from China are up so dramatically. What’s more likely the case, however, is that these imports from China are just passed on to Russia and Russia’s using these ball bearings to help produce tanks and to help produce rail cars.
And in the Russian market. ball bearings have been a key constraint for Russian tank production. And even though there’s not a direct trade from China to Russia of these ball bearings, it’s also likely the case that central Asia is playing a role in helping to facilitate China-Russian trade and specifically Chinese exports to Russia indirectly.
Commenting on the wider trend of these activities:
You do see a lot of trade directed through third countries.Some goods that might be shipped to say Belarus from China, they enter Russia and then they disappear. They never actually reach Belarus.
So even though on paper this might count as an export to Belarus, in fact, it’s going to be used in the Russian economy and either directly or indirectly support the Russian war effort. There’s a lot there that China is doing indirectly as well as directly to facilitate the invasion.
When asked about the relationship between China and Russia, and that relationship through the lens of the war in Ukraine, Joseph responds:
It’s very difficult to understand both these regimes and their relationship with each other because these are two autocracies. They’re not very transparent, and that’s the case here as well. So we see it does seem, however, that China is very sensitive to how it is perceived in Europe, in part because Europe is such an important economic as well as technological partner.
The Chinese government has been supporting the Russian invasion in various ways. There’s been informational support, there’s also been economic support one could argue from even before the conflict started itself to the present day.
But the Chinese government is also mindful of its presence in Europe, how it is perceived in Europe. And so they’re attempting in some ways to manage the optics of this trade with Russia.
War in Ukraine is reshaping our world. Every weekday The Telegraph’s top journalists analyse the invasion from all angles - military, humanitarian, political, economic, historical - and tell you what you need to know to stay updated.
With over 40 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground. We have been broadcasting ever since the full-scale invasion began.
Ukraine: The Latest’s regular contributors are:
David is Head of Audio Development at The Telegraph, where he has worked for nearly three years. He has reported from across Ukraine during the full-scale invasion.
Dom is Associate Editor (Defence) at The Telegraph, having joined in 2018. He previously served for 23 years in the British Army, in tank and helicopter units. He had operational deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
Francis is assistant comment editor at The Telegraph. Prior to working as a journalist, he was chief of staff to the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board at the Houses of Parliament in London. He studied History at Cambridge University and on the podcast explores how the past shines a light on the latest diplomatic, political, and strategic developments.
They are also regularly joined by The Telegraph’s foreign correspondents around the world, including Joe Barnes (Brussels), Sophia Yan (China), Nataliya Vasilyeva (Russia), Roland Oliphant (Senior Reporter) and Colin Freeman (Reporter). In London, Venetia Rainey (Weekend Foreign Editor), Katie O’Neill (Assistant Foreign Editor), and Verity Bowman (News Reporter) also frequently appear to offer updates.