China’s Xi meets Putin next week in Russia

(CNN) Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Russia next week at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, the Chinese foreign ministry announced on Friday.

It will be Xi’s first visit to Moscow since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

During the visit, Xi and Putin will discuss “strategic cooperation” between the two countries, according to the Kremlin.

“During the talks, current issues of the further development of comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation between Russia and China will be discussed,” the Kremlin said in a statement Friday.

“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, but the attempt has been met with skepticism in Western capitals over the growing partnership between Beijing and Moscow.

Xi and Putin declared a “no-limits” friendship last February when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Weeks later, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.

Since then, China has refused to condemn – or refer to – the Russian invasion, instead blaming NATO’s advance for provoking the conflict and repeating the Kremlin’s position.

It has also provided diplomatic support to Moscow while strengthening economic and military ties with its northern neighbour.

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. The high-profile visit was widely believed to be a prelude to a meeting between Putin and Xi.

Putin told Wang that relations between his country and China are “reaching new milestones”, while Wang pledged to “further strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership”.

Wang arrived in Moscow after US officials worried how China’s continued partnership with Russia could impact the war in Ukraine — and hours after Putin delivered a major speech on the conflict, announcing plans to end involvement of Russia in the war. the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty with the US.

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 “stand through all the trials”. Putin also invited Xi to visit Moscow in the spring of 2023.

The two leaders have forged a close personal bond, with Xi describing Putin in 2019 as a “dear friend”. Xi has personally met Putin 39 times since he became China’s leader, most recently at a summit in Central Asia in September.

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