Chinese leader Xi Jinping will fly to Moscow next week to meet President Vladimir Putin on his first visit to Russia since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
The visit will be seen as strong evidence of Beijing’s support for Moscow in Western capitals, where leaders have become increasingly wary of the two nations’ deepening partnership as war rages in Europe.
It will also be Xi’s first trip abroad since securing an unprecedented third term as president at the annual meeting of China’s legislature last week.
The face-to-face was revealed on Friday by statements from both Beijing and the Kremlin.
China’s foreign ministry said the visit at Putin’s invitation will take place from Monday to Wednesday and confirmed that the war in Ukraine will be an important part of the talks.
“China’s proposal boils down to one sentence, which is to push for peace and promote talks,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
The Kremlin said the two leaders will discuss “current issues of the further development of comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation between Russia and China”.
“An exchange of views is also planned in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation in the international arena,” the Kremlin added. “A number of important bilateral documents will be signed.”
The visit comes as China attempts to present itself as a neutral peace broker in Ukraine, including the recent publication of a position paper calling for a political settlement of the crisis.
On Thursday, China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on the phone to call for peace talks. The two discussed “the meaning of the principle of territorial integrity,” Kuleba said on Twitter.
But the mediator’s claim has been met with skepticism from Western leaders, who point to China’s refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict and growing ties with Russia.
Xi has spoken to Putin several times since the invasion — both virtually and in person — but has not had a single phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Xi and Putin declared a borderless friendship in February last year when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
And under Xi, China has refused to condemn — or even hint at — the Russian invasion, instead blaming NATO for provoking the conflict while reinforcing the Kremlin’s misinformation.
It has also provided diplomatic support to Moscow and strengthened economic and military ties by boosting trade and holding regular joint military exercises.
In recent weeks, Western officials have begun to publicly express concern that China is considering providing deadly military aid to Russia, an allegation Beijing denies.
Last month, Putin hosted China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Moscow, just days before the anniversary of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Putin told Wang that relations between his country and China are “reaching new milestones”, while Wang pledged to “further strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership”.
Putin and Xi last held a virtual meeting in December, during which the Russian leader described relations between the two nations as “the best in history”, saying they could “pass all the tests”.
The two leaders share a deep mistrust and animosity towards the US, which they say is determined to contain China and Russia. They also share a vision for a new world order – one that better aligns with the interests of their nations and is no longer dominated by the West.
They have also forged a close personal bond, with Xi describing Putin in 2019 as a “best friend”. Xi has personally met Putin 39 times since he became China’s leader, most recently at a summit in Central Asia in September.