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Vladimir Putin to meet Xi Jinping as Ukraine looms large

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China is his
first trip abroad since his inauguration to a fifth term in office – almost a
reciprocal move following Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia in
March 2023 after he secured a historic third term.

Russian commentators are excited about the trip, which will
likely see Putin be welcomed with full honours. Some pundits have already
predicted that Putin’s visit will be “front-page news for all the world’s
media”.

“This is what everyone in the world will be watching
closely. Both enemies and friends,” one said.

In an interview with China’s state broadcaster Xinhua
earlier this week, Putin said he had decided to make China his first stop after
his inauguration because of the “the unprecedented high level of strategic
partnership between the countries”.

Putin is highly dependent on China – which has become Russia’s
number one trading partner since Western sanctions left the country isolated following its invasion of Ukraine. And he will want to
show the world that he has President Xi’s backing.

The Russian leader is also hoping to highlight that he and
Xi Jinping remain on the same page with regards to Ukraine and has
already lavished praise on Xi for “understanding” the “root
causes” of the conflict. Putin is aware he cannot afford to have China show
any signs of impatience with regards to Russia’s invasion, and he has even
backed China’s (rather vague) plan for a settlement of the war.

Russia and China’s partnership may be growing to
“unprecedented levels”. But it remains lopsided.

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