Russian president Vladimir Putin has arrived in Beijing for talks with Xi Jinping that the Kremlin hopes will deepen a strategic partnership between the two most powerful geopolitical rivals of the United States.

State news agency Xinhua confirmed his arrival on Thursday for what China’s state press has described as a state visit from an “old friend”. The two leaders will take part in a gala evening celebrating 75 years since the Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic of China, which was declared by Mao Zedong in 1949.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said the two leaders would hold informal talks on Thursday evening over tea and that they would touch on Ukraine, Asia, energy and trade.

Putin will also visit Harbin in north-eastern China, a city with strong ties to Russia. It was not immediately clear whether or not Putin would visit any other capitals in Asia after Beijing.

In February 2022, China and Russia declared a “no limits” partnership when Putin visited Beijing just days before he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, triggering the deadliest land war in Europe since the second world war.

By picking China for his first foreign trip since being sworn in for a term that will keep him in power until at least 2030, Putin is sending a message to the world about his priorities and the depth of his personal relationship with Xi.

In an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency, Putin praised Xi for helping to build a “strategic partnership” with Russia based on national interests and deep mutual trust.

“It was the unprecedentedly high level of the strategic partnership between our countries that determined my choice of China as the first state that I would visit after officially taking office as president of the Russian Federation,” Putin said.

“We will try to establish closer cooperation in the field of industry and high technology, space and peaceful nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources and other innovative sectors,” Putin said.

He also hailed what he said was Beijing’s “genuine desire” to help end the Ukraine war.

“This is Putin’s first trip after his inauguration, and it is therefore intended to show that Sino-Russian relations are moving up another level,” independent Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “Not to mention the visibly sincere personal friendship between the two leaders.”

The US casts China as its biggest competitor and Russia as its biggest nation-state threat while US president Joe Biden argues that this century will be defined by an existential contest between democracies and autocracies.

Putin and Xi share a broad worldview, which sees the west as decadent and in decline just as China challenges US supremacy in everything from quantum computing and synthetic biology to espionage and hard military power.

China has strengthened its trade and military ties with Russia in recent years as the United States and its allies imposed sanctions against both countries, particularly against Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

The west says China has played a crucial role in helping Russia withstand the sanctions and has supplied key technology which Russia has used on the battlefield in Ukraine. China claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but has backed Moscow’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the West, despite Putin’s public avowals of his desire to restore Russia’s century-old borders as the reason for his assault.

China, once the junior partner of Moscow in the global Communist hierarchy, remains by far the most powerful of Russia’s friends in the world.

Putin’s arrival follows a mission to Beijing late last month by US secretary of state Antony Blinken, in part to warn China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, against deepening military support for Russia.

Putin’s newly appointed defence minister, Andrei Belousov, as well as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, will also attend, along with Russia’s most powerful CEOs.

It was not immediately clear if Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller would go to China as he was on a working visit to Iran on Wednesday.



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