Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photos prior to meeting in Beijing in October 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photos prior to meeting in Beijing in October 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik/Kremlin pool photo via AP)

In his first trip abroad since securing a fifth term, Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Beijing on Thursday to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to reinforce ties with China and their joint efforts to push back against a U.S.-led global order.

The trip will come barely a week after Xi visited Europe for the first time in five years and declined to use his influence to pressure Moscow to end its war against Ukraine. As well as providing diplomatic support, China has become a critical economic lifeline as Russia copes with mounting Western sanctions.

Xi and Putin both share a vision of a “multipolar” world order, in which countries led by China and Russia can operate by a different set of rules than the ones set by the United States and other liberal democracies.

“I expect both Russia and China will heavily focus their narrative on the failures of the West and in particular the U.S., even if not named directly,” said Meia Nouwens, senior fellow for Chinese security and defense policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

Coming just after Xi’s Europe visit, Putin’s trip “signals that Beijing has not changed how it views its bilateral relationship with Russia despite consistent calls from European leaders to halt China’s support of Russia’s war economy and defense industry,” Nouwens added.

Putin will be in China through Friday and will visit Beijing and the northern city of Harbin, close to the border with Russia, the Kremlin’s media service said.

It added that the two leaders “will have a substantive exchange of views on the most pressing global and regional affairs.” The negotiations will end with the signing of a joint statement of the heads of state and a number of bilateral documents, the media service said.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Xi and Putin will “exchange views on bilateral relations.”

The meeting between Xi and Putin will be their first bilateral summit since the Chinese leader’s trip to the Kremlin in March 2023, when the two leaders vowed to deepen Sino-Russian political and economic cooperation. Putin and Xi also met in October when the Russian leader, among others, traveled to Beijing to mark 10 years of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s flagship foreign and economic project.

This week, the two are expected to shore up their “no limits” partnership, declared just weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China is now one of Russia’s only remaining trading partners and friends on the global stage.

China’s importance to Russia has grown exponentially since the 2022 invasion — as a buyer of Russian energy, as a source of components that can be used in military production, and as a diplomatic partner, providing tacit support for a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers.

The Kremlin emphasized that the trip to China would be Putin’s first travel abroad since his inauguration last week for a fifth term, signaling the significance of the relationship for Moscow.

Putin and Xi share common cause in their objective of reshaping global power and ending the dominance of the United States in world affairs. While China has released a vague peace plan and called for an end to the war in Ukraine, it has not expressed strong criticism of Russia’s unprovoked invasion and seizure of territory — both clear breaches of the United Nations charter.

As Russia launches new offensive operations in Ukraine, it is looking to stabilize the country’s relations with China, including trade and energy, said Zhao Minghao, a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“For Putin, facing pressure from the United States and Western countries, he must ensure this strategic partnership with China,” Zhao said, adding that the partnership is equally crucial for China.

Alexander Gabuev, a Russia and China analyst with the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that Moscow now weighs all of its foreign ties based on the war and on the benefit of any given relationship in its increasingly hostile posture toward the West.

“War has become the organizing principle of Putin’s foreign policy,” Gabuev wrote in comments on X. “He now assesses every relationship through a lens of three considerations: whether this relationship can help on the battlefield in Ukraine; whether it can help to sustain Russian economy and circumvent sanctions, whether it can help Moscow push back against the West and punish the United States and its allies for supporting Kyiv.” China, he noted, ticked all three boxes for Russia.

China’s trade with Russia hit a record $240 billion in 2023 — up 63% from 2021, before the invasion, and reaching a goal they planned to meet by 2024. During that time, exports of Chinese electronics needed to produce precision-guided weapons systems saw a significant spike, Chinese customs data shows.

But trade flows have increased in both directions. Russia last year became China’s biggest oil supplier as Beijing took advantage of discounted prices. Western sanctions mean Russia has relatively few big customers left.

With Russia’s isolation and loss of Europe as its main market for selling gas and oil, Russia has turned to China and India as its primary customers. Nevertheless, Gazprom, the Russian state gas giant, in recent weeks reported its first loss in decades, increasing Moscow’s eagerness to sign a long-delayed gas deal with China called the Power of Siberia 2.

The Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, once built, will export gas from the Yamal Peninsula fields in western Siberia, across eastern Mongolia to northern China, across a span of more than 1,600 miles.

It is expected to carry 50 billion cubic meters of gas to China, the world’s biggest energy consumer.

But China has delayed a final agreement, driving a hard bargain on the gas price. If an agreement is reached, construction of the pipeline would be expected to begin this year; however, the gas will not flow until the end of the decade.

Beijing imported 107 million tons of Russian crude oil in 2023, an increase of 24% compared with 2022, Zhang Hanhui, the Chinese ambassador to Moscow, told Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian state-controlled media group, this month.

“This [visit] demonstrates that the mutual trust between China and Russia has reached a new pinnacle in history,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University in Beijing.

Given the scheduled visit to Harbin in China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province, the two leaders may discuss measures focusing on economic development along the Far East border region, Wang said.

“There is a lot of potential for economic collaboration between China and Russia,” Wang added.

Putin may also use this visit to Asia to make good on a pledge to visit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who traveled to Russia’s Far East last year for a rare in-person summit with Putin and called relations with Russia his top priority. Kim pledged full support for Putin and his government amid the war in Ukraine.

Military cooperation between Russia and North Korea has ramped up since the invasion, with Pyongyang reportedly providing Moscow with much-needed ammunition and other weapons to replenish its dwindling supplies for the war.

North Korea, which also faces a host of international sanctions relating to its nuclear and weapons program, wants to show it stands with Russia in the face of U.S.-led economic isolation.

Putin last visited Pyongyang in 2000, when he met Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader.

Robyn Dixon in London, and Pei Lin Wu and Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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