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Xi confirms Russia trip as it emerges China is sending rifles to Putin's men

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin enter a hall for talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin enter a hall for talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019

Chinese president Xi Jinping will embark on a three-day trip to Moscow in an apparent show of support for Vladimir Putin.

The rumoured trip was officially confirmed on Friday by China’s foreign affairs ministry. Russia said the Chinese president is visiting at the invitation of Mr Putin.

The Kremlin said that Mr Putin would have a one-to-one meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Monday and hold further negotiations on Tuesday, followed by a statement to the press.

Mr Xi is also reportedly planning to call Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky after his Moscow visit, their first interaction since the invasion.

China has insisted it remains neutral in the conflict, and has called for a ceasefire without offering a concrete proposal on how to achieve a resolution.

Beijing has even offered to help broker peace talks, but Western nations doubt China’s credibility and impartiality, given that Mr Xi has before touted a “no-limits” friendship with Mr Putin. 

On Friday it emerged that Chinese companies, including state-owned defence contractors, have sent assault rifles, drone parts and body armour to Russia, according to a report by Politico based on customs data from the second half of last year.

Some of the items being shipped by China are dual-use – commercial goods that could be used for military purposes.

Beijing continues to refrain from criticising Mr Putin, going to lengths not to call the war an “invasion,” instead terming it “the Ukraine crisis.”

In a 12-point “political settlement” statement, released on the one-year anniversary of the war, China demanded an end to Western sanctions against Russia, and for nuclear facilities to be secured.

The US has issued sanctions against Chinese firms for providing goods and services that it said supported Russia’s operations in Ukraine.

One Chinese space satellite firm was blacklisted for providing imagery over Ukraine, and a group of companies were sanctioned for supplying parts for Iranian drones used by Russia.

Mr Xi’s visit to Russia follows a flurry of calls that Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba held separately with US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Chinese counterpart Qin Gang.

'Cheerful' Putin

Kremlin insiders say Mr Putin's outlook has changed in recent weeks, and the Russian leader appears more relaxed and cheerful than he has been for months.

Six months ago, Mr Putin watched from the Kremlin as the Russian army appeared to be on the brink of an embarrassing collapse in Ukraine, he was forced into a humiliating public apology to Mr Xi for his invasion of Ukraine and an economic meltdown.

But Mr Putin yesterday cracked jokes during a two-hour speech and question and answer session with Russian oligarchs.

“Putin was joking a lot at this business meeting. He is pleased with how the Russian economy has withstood the blow of total sanctions,” said Sergei Markov, a former Russian presidential adviser and a pro-Kremlin commentator. “That's why Putin joked merrily and also why the billionaires laughed merrily. They have survived.”

TASS, a Kremlin-linked news agency, published photos of Mr Putin grinning and some of Russia’s richest men laughing and clapping.

Mr Putin drew one of his biggest laughs when he appeared to poke fun at a shortage of tomatoes in British supermarkets.

“We have offered to help them make the switch from tomato salads to turnips. It’s a good product. However our harvest significantly exceeds Europe’s,” he said. “It’ll be difficult for them to match us without our fertilisers.”