Kremlin hails importance of Putin-Xi meeting in Samarkand

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Tuesday hailed the significance of Russian President Vladimir Putin's planned meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week, noting that it's particularly important amid tensions with the West.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said the two leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of a summit of a security pact dominated by Moscow and Beijing.

“The meeting has a special significance in view of the current international situation,” Ushakov told reporters, saying Putin and Xi will discuss the international situation, along with regional issues and bilateral cooperation.

China has pointedly refused to criticize Russia’s action in Ukraine and denounced Western sanctions against Moscow. Russia, in turn, has strongly backed China amid tensions with the U.S. that followed a recent visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“China has taken a well-balanced approach to the Ukrainian crisis, clearly expressing its understanding of the reasons that prompted Russia to launch the special military operation,” Ushakov said. “The issue will be thoroughly discussed during the meeting.”

The talks between Putin and Xi follow their meeting in February, when the Russian leader attended the opening of the Beijing Olympics shortly before sending troops into Ukraine.

Ushakov noted that “the discussion of issues related to trade and economic cooperation is particularly important," adding that "in the difficult conditions amid unlawful Western sanctions this cooperation has remained stable and continued gaining tempo.”

Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China ties, said the main characteristic of current Russian-Chinese relations is "their asymmetry in favor of China.” Beijing, he said, has “more options and more bargaining power than Russia.”

Gabuev argued that the conflict in Ukraine greatly weakens Russia’s negotiating position, making it “impossible to do anything without partnership with China.”

As the West is moving to establish a price cap on Russian energy resources and potentially cut their imports altogether, Russia will grow increasingly reliant on China for selling its oil and gas and will be forced to cooperate on Beijing’s conditions.

“Of course, China would want to take advantage of this opportunity,” Gabuev said.

He added that China will serve as the main source of key technologies for Moscow, after Western allies have cut such exports to Russia.

On Friday, Putin and Xi will attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security grouping dominated by Russia and China that also includes India, Pakistan and ex-Soviet Central Asian nations. Iran and some other countries are on track to membership.

Putin and Xi have developed strong personal ties to bolster a “strategic partnership” between the former Communist rivals as they both are now locked in rivalry with the U.S. Even though Moscow and Beijing in the past ruled out a military alliance, Putin has said that such a prospect can’t be excluded.

In a show of military muscle amid the tensions with the West, Russia and China have held joint military drills in Russia and the Sea of Japan that also involved several other nations.