Both Russia and China both announced Friday that President Xi Jinping is set to visit Moscow next week, from Monday to Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had invited Xi to visit Russia during a video conference call in late December. The face-to-face meeting, Putin said at the time, could “demonstrate to the whole world the strength of the Russian-Chinese ties,” which Putin called “the best in history.”
China had announced Monday that Xi planned to make the trip, but was vague on the timeline; on Friday the itinerary was being confirmed by both countries.
Russia’s war in Ukraine, now into its second year, is expected to dominate discussions between Xi and Putin. The visit offers a diplomatic boost for Putin as Western leaders have sought to isolate him over the war.
Subsequently an increase in China’s diplomatic clout could offer potential leverage for Xi amid heightened tensions between China and the U.S. China’s refusal to condemn Russia while denouncing Western sanctions and accusing NATO and the U.S. of provoking Putin’s military action has irked Washington as it competes with Beijing for influence.
Despite China officially taking a neutral stance in the war, in February of 2022 ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi and Putin struck a “no limits” partnership while Putin was visiting Beijing for the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Nonetheless, Xi is also expected to speak remotely with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, most likely after the Chinese President’s trip to Russia. And after China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Thursday, expectations have risen that Xi might make a physical trip to Ukraine as part of a larger tour of Europe next week.
On February 24, marking one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, China’s Foreign Ministry in a vaguely worded proposal called for a cease-fire and for peace talks to resume. And Qin in his call to Kuleba reportedly urged talks to find a political solution to the war.
Kuleba responded in a tweet saying that he discussed with Qin the “significance of the principle of territorial integrity” during their call.
Earlier in the day Kuleba had tweeted that he had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “about Ukraine’s Peace Formula and ways to expedite the delivery of artillery ammunition.”
On Monday, Putin and Xi are scheduled to have a one-on-one meeting over an informal dinner. Broader talks involving officials from both countries are scheduled for Tuesday, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who not provide details about the discussions.
In his December conference call, Putin had asserted that a Moscow meeting between him and Xi could “become the main political event of the year in bilateral relations.”
That was before President Biden, during the week of February 24, made a surprise visit to Ukraine, met with Zelensky and gave a speech affirming U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty.