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Russia Expects a Visit From China’s Xi Jinping in the Spring, Ministry Says

The Russian government is anticipating a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping this spring, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

“Through joint efforts in the coming year, Russia and China will be able to strengthen and advance bilateral interstate ties,” the ministry said in a statement. “As it is known, Russian President V.V. Putin invited Chinese leader Xi Jinping to a government visit in the spring. We are proceeding with the understanding that this will be the central event for the bilateral relationship in 2023.”

The meeting, which would be the second in-person meeting between Xi and Putin since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine last February, could signal a deepening of ties between the two states. As many countries have sanctioned Russia in response to the invasion, China is one of the countries credited with keeping the Russian economy afloat by continuing to maintain trade with Russia.

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Meanwhile, the Chinese government has not yet confirmed Xi’s visit. In a statement to RIA News, a Russian state-owned news agency, Mao Ning, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “China and Russia maintain close cooperation at various levels to promote the development of bilateral relations and to contribute to the support of peace and development in the entire world.” TIME reached out to the Chinese and Russian ministries of foreign affairs for further comment.

Putin has publicly encouraged Xi to pay him a visit since at least December, when Putin invited Xi to visit Moscow in spring 2023 in a statement on Russian state television, Reuters reported at the time. “This will demonstrate to the whole world the strength of Russian-Chinese ties on key issues,” Putin said in the address.

In its statement discussing the meeting on Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs echoed one of the main tenets of Russian foreign policy: the importance of strengthening alliances among non-western countries to counter growing alliances like NATO. Russia has used its concerns about NATO to justify the invasion of Ukraine, and in recent years, has criticized what it characterizes as encroachment on its borders, including its military presence in eastern Europe.

The ministry’s statement emphasized that a stronger relationship between Russia and China will build a “multipolar system of international relations,” as opposed to one dominated by the United States: “Together with others who are like-minded we consistently oppose the attempts of the United States to achieve global dominance by the promotion of the concept of ‘rule based order,’” the statement said.

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Since the beginning of the war, China has walked a delicate balancing act, maintaining that it is neutral on the conflict in Ukraine while simultaneously keeping close ties with Russia and rejecting arguments to restrict trade. At times, this has threatened China’s fragile relationship with the U.S.

The U.S. State Department said in December that Washington is monitoring Beijing’s activity, Reuters reported. “Beijing claims to be neutral, but its behavior makes clear it is still investing in close ties to Russia,” the spokesperson said in a statement. And on January 24, Bloomberg reported that the Biden administration had accused companies owned by the Chinese state of assisting the Russian war in Ukraine, and that the administration is working to determine if the government in Beijing was cognizant of what was going on. Mao has denied China’s involvement, calling the U.S. accusations “paranoia,” Bloomberg reported.