China bans Russian flights

Foreign Affairs

Beijing barred Russia’s foreign-owned planes from flying into its airspace after Moscow appropriated the jets in February. But Moscow and Beijing also held an official conference on their close bilateral relationship.

A plane of Russia’s flagship airline. REUTERS.

China is restricting Russian airlines from flying foreign-owned jets over its airspace, per the Associated Press.

In February, Russia essentially seized hundreds of airplanes leased to (mostly Western) foreign lessors after the U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions on Russian air travel in response to the invasion of Ukraine. While Russian airline companies have returned more than two dozen planes to foreign lessors, according to Reuters, hundreds of jets still remain within Russia, costing foreign companies about $10 billion and further aggravating Western-Russian relations.

Over the medium term, Russia’s aviation difficulties could become increasingly acute, as Russian aircraft lack access to maintenance amid Western sanctions. Aviation consultancy IBA estimates that “the lack of physical parts will begin to have a significant impact on the Russian fleets in the next 6 to 12 months.”

Chinese firms are (reportedly) refusing to supply aircraft parts to their Russian counterparts, continuing Beijing’s policy of distancing itself economically from Moscow when necessary. While Beijing will likely seek to find seams in sanctions when it can, Chinese companies in petrochemicals, LNG, and telecommunications (and more) have suspended or canceled tie-ups with Russian corporations.

Russia and China hold an official conference, frame the meeting differently

China and Russia held an official conference attended by their respective foreign ministers, but both sides framed the meeting in different ways and didn’t establish a common vocabulary. Russia branded the meeting as “the 7th international conference Russia and China: Cooperation in a New Era,” while China framed it in more anodyne (and unthreatening) terms as the “China-Russia High-Level Think Tank Forum (or 中俄智库高端论坛).”

Russian state media highlighted the conference, while Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, noted that Moscow “appreciates” Beijing’s support, saying, “We highly appreciate the balanced and unbiased stance of our Chinese friends regarding the situation in and around Ukraine.”

Chinese state media took a somewhat more cautious approach: The conference has not (at least as of this writing) been reported on by either Chinese or English-language state media mouthpieces.

At the conference, Wang didn’t address the invasion in the room: The war wasn’t mentioned and the word Ukraine was never uttered in his speech. Wang also reaffirmed the CCP’s political support for Putin and the bilateral relationship, saying, “With the charting and guidance of the two heads of state, China and Russia have constantly deepened comprehensive strategic coordination, setting a fine example for present major-country relations and upholding international fairness and justice.”