Chinese President Xi Jinping is going on a three-day trip to Moscow to show his support for Vladimir Putin.
The rumored trip was officially confirmed by China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday. Russia said the Chinese president is visiting at Putin’s invitation.
The Kremlin said Putin would have a one-on-one meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Monday and conduct further negotiations on Tuesday, followed by a statement to the press.
Xi also reportedly plans to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after his visit to Moscow, their first contact since the invasion.
China has insisted on remaining neutral in the conflict and has called for a ceasefire without making any concrete proposal for reaching a solution.
Beijing has even offered to help broker peace talks, but Western countries question China’s credibility and impartiality, given that Xi has previously touted a borderless friendship with Putin.
On Friday, it emerged that Chinese companies, including state-owned defense firms, have been sending assault rifles, drone parts and body armor to Russia, a Politico report based on customs data from the second half of last year found.
Some of the items shipped from China are dual-use: commercial goods that can be used for military purposes.
Beijing continues to refrain from criticizing Putin and is doing everything it can to call the war not an “invasion” but “the Ukraine crisis”.
In a 12-point statement on a “political settlement” released on the one-year anniversary of the war, China demanded an end to Western sanctions against Russia and demanded the security of nuclear facilities.
The US has imposed sanctions against Chinese companies for providing goods and services that it says supported Russian activities in Ukraine.
A Chinese space satellite company was blacklisted for providing images over Ukraine, and a group of companies was sanctioned for supplying parts for Iranian drones used by Russia.
Xi’s visit to Russia follows a flurry of phone calls Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba made separately to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese counterpart Qin Gang.
According to Kremlin insiders, Putin’s outlook has changed in recent weeks, with the Russian leader appearing more relaxed and more cheerful than he has been in months.
Six months ago, Putin watched from the Kremlin as the Russian military appeared to be on the verge of an embarrassing collapse in Ukraine.
But Putin joked yesterday during a two-hour speech and question-and-answer session with Russian oligarchs.
“Putin joked a lot during this business meeting. He is pleased with how the Russian economy has weathered the blow of all-out sanctions,” said Sergei Markov, a former Russian presidential adviser and pro-Kremlin commentator. “That’s why Putin joked happily and also why the billionaires laughed happily. They survived.”
TASS, a Kremlin-affiliated news agency, published photos of Putin grinning and laughing and applauding some of Russia’s richest men.
Putin got one of his biggest laughs when he appeared to mock a shortage of tomatoes in British supermarkets.
“We offered to help them switch from tomato salads to turnips. It’s a good product. However, our harvest significantly exceeds that of Europe,” he said. “It will be difficult for them to match us without our fertilizers.”