China’s Xi will meet Putin in Russia next week

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

It was Xi’s first visit to Moscow since Putin launched his disastrous invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

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

“During the talks, topical issues for the further development of comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation between Russia and China will be discussed,” the Kremlin said in a statement on 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 tries to position itself as a neutral peace broker in Ukraine, but the effort has been met with skepticism in Western capitals due to Beijing’s growing partnership with Moscow.

In February last year, when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, Xi and Putin declared a “boundless” friendship.

A few weeks later, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.

Since then, China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion — or even refer to it, instead blaming NATO’s advance for fueling the conflict and reiterating the Kremlin’s position.

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

Western officials have begun to publicly raise concerns in recent weeks that China is considering providing dangerous military aid to Russia, a charge denied by Beijing.

Last month, Putin hosted China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Moscow days before the anniversary of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The high-profile visit was widely believed to be a precursor to a meeting between Putin and Xi.

Putin said relations between his country and China were “reaching new milestones”, while Wang promised to “further strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership”.

Wang arrived in Moscow after U.S. officials went public with concerns about how China’s continued partnership with Russia could affect the war in Ukraine — and hours after Putin delivered a keynote speech on the conflict, announcing plans to end Russia’s intervention. Its last nuclear weapons deal was with the United States.

Putin and Xi last held a virtual meeting in December, in which the Russian leader described relations between the two countries as “the best in history”, adding that they “can withstand all tests”. Putin invited Xi to visit Moscow in the spring of 2023.

The two leaders have developed a close personal relationship, with Xi describing Putin as a “best friend” in 2019. He has met Putin in person 39 times since becoming China’s leader, most recently during a summit in Central Asia in September.

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