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Russian President Vladimir Putin visits his “dear friend” Xi Jinping

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in China on Tuesday to meet his “dear friend” Xi Jinping to strengthen their relationship at a summit that will be overshadowed by the war between Israel and Hamas.

This week, China is hosting a forum for President Xi’s landmark project Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing is hosting representatives from 130 countries, with Putin at the top of the invitation list. The Russian president arrived in China at 9:30. He is scheduled to meet Xi for talks on Wednesday, Kremlin officials said. It said, without elaborating:

“During the talks, special attention will be paid to international and regional issues.”

Putin came to strengthen the already strong relations with his communist neighbour. Experts view the meeting of the leaders as a symbolic gesture of support for Moscow, so they do not expect major surprises during the Russian president’s visit. Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP:

“Russia is aware that China doesn’t want to sign any high publicity deals.China holds all of the cards.”

The Kremlin press service says the presidents will meet on Wednesday on the “sidelines” of the BRI forum. The main topic of the forum will be the war with the Palestinian organisation Hamas.

On 7 October, Hamas militias breached Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, shooting, stabbing and burning more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians. Immediately afterwards, Israel declared war on the Islamist group and declared a total siege on the Gaza region. More than a million people fled their homes amid the chaos and despair caused by the intense Israeli bombardment of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Palestinian authorities estimate that some 2,750 people have been killed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza. Entire neighbourhoods in the region have been razed to the ground. The West has criticised Beijing for not naming Hamas in statements on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US representative urged China to use its influence in the Middle East to resolve the situation. China has warm relations with Iran, whose leadership supports both Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has threatened to open a second front against Israel. This year, China will mediate an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the former warring countries.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reports that Beijing’s Special Envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East this week to push for a ceasefire and peace talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed gratitude to China for inviting Putin as the summit’s “chief guest”, according to a report from Moscow. After Beijing, Russia’s top diplomat will travel to North Korea. Putin and Xi will discuss relations between the countries “in their entirety” during their meeting this week, Lavrov told Wang. Wang emphasised that China “highly appreciates” Russia’s support for the Belt and Road Initiative. He said:

“Both sides should plan commemorative activities, deepen strategic mutual trust, consolidate traditional friendship, and promote friendship from generation to generation.”

Within the framework of Russia-China co-operation, China values Russia’s role as a bulwark against the West, and Moscow increasingly relies on Beijing’s trade and geopolitical support. The deepening partnership is based on the relationship between Xi and Putin, who call each other “dear friends.” Putin told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN ahead of his visit, according to a Kremlin readout: “President Xi Jinping calls me his friend, and I call him my friend, too.”

Putin last visited China for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 when Russia and China released a sweeping 5,000-word statement reaffirming their no-limits relationship. It is the third time Putin has attended the Belt and Road forum, which continues until Wednesday. He attended the two previous meetings in 2017 and 2019. Putin has also accepted an invitation from leader Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea after the two presidents met in Russia last month.

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