Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin will lead a government delegation to China next week to attend a business forum along with sanctioned tycoons as Moscow leans on Beijing to help it withstand economic pressure over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
Mishustin and Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who’s responsible for energy, will attend the Russia-China Business Forum in Shanghai on May 23, according to people with knowledge of the plans, who asked to remain anonymous as the preparations are confidential.
The trip will be Mishustin’s inaugural visit to China since becoming prime minister in 2020 and the first major delegation of Russian business leaders to the country since 2019.
Billionaire Oleg Deripaska plans to go, while fertilizer tycoons Andrey Guryev and Andrey Melnichenko, pipe maker Dmitry Pumpyansky and Alexey Mordashov of steel and mining giant Severstal, have also been invited, the people said. It’s unclear how many of the business leaders, who have all been sanctioned by the US and its allies, will attend in person, though their companies may be represented, the people said.
Heads of some oil and gas companies are also expected to go to the event.
A spokesman for Mishustin’s office didn’t respond to a request to comment. Spokespeople for Guryev, Melnichenko, Mordashov and Pumpyansky declined to comment. Deripaska won’t be attending the forum, his spokesman said after publication.
“The forum is likely to reinforce the narrative about the blossoming economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, despite economic sanctions imposed on Russia,” said Vita Spivak, non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “In the economic realm, similar to geopolitics, Russia is actively strengthening its dependency on China and is becoming Beijing’s junior partner.”
China has refrained from joining the US-led sanctions campaign against Russia for triggering Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II. While Beijing has claimed it is neutral on Russia’s war, it has also provided President Vladimir Putin’s government with much-needed political and economic cover as it becomes increasingly isolated internationally.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow in March, reaffirming his friendship with Putin days after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the Russian leader’s arrest on charges of war crimes. During the three-day visit, he invited Mishustin to visit China “as soon as possible” to boost ties with new Chinese premier Li Qiang.
Li is expected to hold talks with Mishustin on economic and trade agreements the day after the Shanghai forum, according to a person with knowledge of plans for the visit, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
China’s exports to Russia hit a record in April, jumping 153% from a year earlier to $9.6 billion, while the world’s second largest economy imported $9.6 billion worth of oil, gas and other goods, taking total trade to the second-highest level on record.
Both Russia and China have kept preparations for the event low profile, with neither side officially announcing Mishustin’s participation or who will join him.
An agenda for the forum shows a key topic is energy cooperation as a driver for bilateral cooperation. Other spheres of interest are agriculture, industry, transport and digitalization.
— With assistance by Sylvia Westall and James Mayger