Xi Jinping will visit Vladimir Putin in Russia next week

Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, confirming strong ties between the leaders despite Western condemnation of Moscow’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

China’s foreign ministry said Xi and Putin would have “in-depth exchanges on bilateral relations and key international and regional issues of mutual interest” during the three-day visit, Xi’s first visit to Russia since the war began in February last year.

China has presented itself as a potential mediator in the Ukraine conflict, a claim viewed with skepticism in Europe and the US due to the close relationship between Xi and Putin, which was sealed just before hostilities broke out when the pair declared a borderless partnership. proclaimed.

Over the past year, Xi has maintained regular contact with Putin, while Chinese state media have echoed Russian propaganda about the war, describing the situation as a “crisis” rather than an invasion.

The Chinese leader has not spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the start of the war. But a person familiar with the matter in Beijing said Xi could also hold a video conference with the Ukrainian president in the coming days.

China has yet to confirm such a plan, but Beijing has intensified ministerial-level contacts with Ukraine in recent weeks. On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to call for peace talks.

“China maintains a fair and objective position in Ukraine and plays a constructive role in advancing peace negotiations,” China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.

While China did not provide further details on the agenda of the Russian state visit, the Kremlin said Putin and Xi would discuss “issues of developing relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction between Russia and China”.

They would also participate in an “exchange of views in the context of deepening cooperation between Russia and China in the international arena” and sign “a number of important bilateral documents”. It gave no details about the documents.

Putin and Xi were scheduled to meet one-on-one on Monday, followed by an informal lunch, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The most important talks between China and Russia will take place on Tuesday.

Analysts said Beijing would use any phone call between Xi and Zelenskyy to bolster its claims that it was genuinely interested in playing a possible peacemaker role in the conflict.

China could point to its brokerage of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran last week to restore diplomatic ties as evidence of its recent success as a negotiator. Analysts, however, believe that resolving the conflict in Ukraine will prove much more complex for Beijing, which the West believes is on par with Moscow.

“I think it is becoming more and more difficult for China to convince the world that somehow it is this neutral player in Ukraine. So a trip from Xi Jinping to Moscow just to see Putin alone at this point would again not be a good idea for China,” said Paul Haenle of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was a China adviser to US Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.

But he said if Xi then called Zelenskyy, he could sell the trip to Moscow as a conversation with both sides in the interest of a peace deal.

In the US, the Biden administration has encouraged Xi to talk to Zelenskyy to get a more balanced view of the Russian invasion.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week the US would closely monitor any summit between Putin and Xi to see if it presaged a decision to transfer deadly aid from China to Russia.

“Russia has its own interest in involving other countries in this conflict if possible,” he said.

He added: “It would not be in China’s best interest from our perspective if they supply weapons to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine, but that is a sovereign decision that China will have to make for itself.”

Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing and Polina Ivanova in Berlin

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