China’s Xi will meet Putin in Russia next week

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

This is 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 negotiations, current issues regarding the further development of comprehensive partnership relations between Russia and China and strategic cooperation will be discussed,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Friday.

“An exchange of views is also planned in connection with the deepening of cooperation between Russia and China in the international arena,” the Kremlin added. “Several important bilateral documents are being signed.”

The visit comes as China tries to present itself as a neutral peace broker on Ukraine, but the effort has been met with skepticism in Western capitals because of Beijing’s growing partnership with Moscow.

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

Weeks later, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.

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

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

In recent weeks, Western officials have begun to publicly raise concerns that China may be considering providing lethal military aid to Russia, a charge Beijing has denied.

Last month, Putin hosted top Chinese 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 precursor to a meeting between Putin and Xi.

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

Wang arrived in Moscow after U.S. officials publicly raised concerns about how China’s continued partnership with Russia could affect the war in Ukraine — and hours after Putin gave a major speech on the conflict in which he announced plans to suspend Russia’s involvement in its last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the United States.

Putin and Xi last held a virtual meeting in December, where the Russian leader described relations between the two countries as “the best in history” and said they would “stand all tests”. Putin also invited Xi to Moscow in the spring of 2023.

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

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