President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart and “old friend” Xi Jinping as he seeks to deepen ties after launching some of Russia’s most significant incursions into Ukraine since its invasion in 2022.

It is Putin’s second visit to Beijing in less than a year, and his first foreign visit since being sworn in for a new term that will keep him in power until at least 2030. The visit will also celebrate 75 years since the Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Putin’s motorcade was met by Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square on Thursday, where a lavish welcoming ceremony included members of the People’s Liberation Army standing at attention and a multi-gun salute. Putin and Xi later sat down for talks.

In televised remarks on Thursday, Xi noted the two had met more than 40 times, but that the China-Russia relationship had “not come easily” and was “worth cherishing and safeguarding by both sides”.

“In our new journey we intend to remain good neighbours, trusted friends and reliable partners, consistently strengthening the relationship between our two nations … defending international equality.”

Putin said he was “happy to be in China among our friends”.

“The relationship between Russia and China is not situation driven and not aimed at anyone,” he said. “Together we stand for principles of equality, fairness and a world order that reflects the multipolar reality.”

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said the two leaders would hold informal talks on Thursday evening over tea and that they would touch on the Ukraine war, Asia, energy and trade.

In a lengthy interview with China’s official state media on Wednesday, Putin praised the bilateral partnership, and what he said was Beijing’s “genuine desire” to help end the Ukraine war. China has presented itself as a peacemaker in the conflict, but in practice has been a supportive ally of Russia, through trade, equipment provision, and supporting Moscow’s narrative that it was provoked into its invasion.

“It was the unprecedentedly high level of the strategic partnership between our countries that determined my choice of China as the first state that I would visit after officially taking office as president of the Russian Federation,” Putin told Xinhua.

“We will try to establish closer cooperation in the field of industry and high technology, space and peaceful nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources and other innovative sectors,” he said.

In February 2022, China and Russia declared a “no limits” partnership when Putin visited Beijing just days before he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, triggering the deadliest land war in Europe since the second world war.

The Russian leader’s two-day to China trip comes as his country’s forces have pressed an offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that began last week in the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began, forcing almost 8,000 people to flee their homes.

“This is Putin’s first trip after his inauguration, and it is therefore intended to show that Sino-Russian relations are moving up another level,” independent Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “Not to mention the visibly sincere personal friendship between the two leaders.”

The US casts China as its biggest competitor and Russia as its biggest nation-state threat while US president Joe Biden argues that this century will be defined by an existential contest between democracies and autocracies.

Putin and Xi share a broad worldview, which sees the west as decadent and in decline just as China challenges US supremacy in everything from quantum computing and synthetic biology to espionage and hard military power.

China has strengthened its trade and military ties with Russia in recent years as the United States and its allies imposed sanctions against both countries, particularly against Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

The west says China has played a crucial role in helping Russia withstand the sanctions and has supplied key technology which Russia has used on the battlefield in Ukraine. China claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but has backed Moscow’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the West, despite Putin’s public avowals of his desire to restore Russia’s century-old borders as the reason for his assault.

China, once the junior partner of Moscow in the global Communist hierarchy, remains by far the most powerful of Russia’s friends in the world.

Putin’s arrival follows a mission to Beijing late last month by US secretary of state Antony Blinken, in part to warn China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, against deepening military support for Russia.

Putin’s newly appointed defence minister, Andrei Belousov, as well as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, will also attend, along with Russia’s most powerful CEOs.

It was not immediately clear if Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller would go to China as he was on a working visit to Iran on Wednesday.

With Reuters and Associated Press

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