Chinese exports of ball bearings to Kyrgyzstan—which if re-exported to Russia can end up in Russian tanks on the Ukraine battlefield—are up around 2,550% from 2021 levels, according to a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank.
Joseph Webster, who specialises in energy geopolitics, in a September 20 discussion on sanctions-busting trade on The Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast, said: “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.”
Webster added: “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.”
There are many statistical surprises in the foreign trade data of Kyrgyzstan—companies and individuals of which have lately come under US sanctions fire—which indicate that the country is sucking in piles of imports that get redirected to Russia as part of Moscow’s trade sanctions circumvention efforts.
Robin Brooks at the International Institute of Finance (IIF) tweeted on September 20: “In the first 7 months of 2023, German exports to Kyrgyzstan are up 1400% from the same period in 2019 (black [on graph at foot of article]), i.e. before COVID & Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That's powered by an eye-watering 6000% rise in cars and parts exports to Kyrgyzstan (blue). Vorsprung durch Technik [Progress through technology]...”
In early August, UK government trade data showed that British goods exports to Kyrgyzstan boomed more than 4,000% in the 12 months to March, with the trade explosion beginning straight after the Kremlin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.