BEIJING: Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to China in May for talks with Xi Jinping, in what could be the Kremlin chief’s first overseas trip of his new presidential term, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

Western governments on Monday condemned Putin’s re-election as unfair and undemocratic. But China, India and North Korea congratulated the veteran leader on extending his rule by a further six years, highlighting geopolitical fault lines that have widened since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin will visit China,” one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. The details were independently confirmed by four other sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another of the sources said Putin’s trip to China would probably take place in the second half of May. Two of the sources said the Putin visit would come before Xi’s planned trip to Europe.

The Kremlin, when asked about the Reuters report, said information on Putin’s visits would be released closer to the date. “Several presidential visits and several high-level contacts are being prepared at the moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We will inform you as we get closer.”

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

The United States 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 world view, 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 Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign diplomats and observers said they expected Putin to make China his first stop after being re-elected. Putin’s formal presidential inauguration is due to take place around May 7.

Putin told reporters on Sunday that Russia and China shared a similar global outlook and enjoyed resilient relations in part due to his good personal relations with Xi, and that Moscow and Beijing would develop ties further in coming years.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2024

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