Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Russia next week

(CNN) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Russia next week at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

It will be Xi Jinping’s first visit to Moscow since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

During the visit, Xi and Putin will discuss “strategic cooperation” between the two countries, according to the Kremlin.

“During the talks, current issues on the further development of comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation between Russia and China will be discussed,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Friday.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China, on February 4, 2022. (Li Tao/AP)

“An exchange of views is also planned in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation in the international arena,” the Kremlin added. “Several important bilateral documents will be signed.”

The visit comes at a time when China is trying to present itself as a neutral peace broker in Ukraine, but the effort has been met with skepticism in Western capitals because of Beijing’s growing partnership with Moscow.

Xi and Putin declared a “limitless” friendship in February last year when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Weeks later, Russian tanks stormed into the Ukraine.

Since then, China has refused to condemn the Russian invasion, or refer to it as such, instead blaming the NATO advance for sparking the conflict and repeating the Kremlin’s position.

It has also provided diplomatic support to Moscow, while strengthening economic and military ties with its northern neighbor.

In recent weeks, Western officials have begun to publicly raise concerns that China is considering providing Russia with lethal military aid, a charge denied by Beijing.

Putin hosted China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Moscow last month, just days before the anniversary of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The high-level visit was seen as a precursor to a meeting between Putin and Xi.

Putin told Wang that relations between his country and China are “reaching new milestones,” while Wang vowed to “continue to strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership.”

Wang arrived in Moscow after US officials voiced concerns about how China’s continued partnership with Russia could impact the war in Ukraine, and hours after Putin delivered a major speech on the conflict, announcing plans to suspend Russia’s participation in its last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the United States.

Putin and Xi last held a virtual meeting in December 2022, in which the Russian leader described relations between the two nations as “the best in history”, stating that they could “withstand all tests”. Putin also invited Xi to visit Moscow in the spring of 2023.

The two leaders have forged a close personal connection, with Xi describing Putin as a “best friend” in 2019. Xi has met Putin in person 39 times since he became China’s leader, most recently in September during a summit in Central Asia.