(Beijing) Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Moscow next week to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, his first official visit to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

Beijing, which has strengthened its ties with Moscow in recent years in common opposition to the West, presents itself as a neutral party in the conflict in Ukraine.

“At the invitation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20 to 22,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

It will be a “movement for friendship and peace”, he added.

On Monday, “it will be a one-on-one conversation, there will be an informal lunch. And from March 21, there will be a day of negotiations, ”detailed Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The two presidents will have “an in-depth exchange of views […] on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern”, said a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Wang Wenbin.

“Changes unseen in a century are happening right now, and the world has entered a new period of turmoil,” Wang said at a regular press briefing.

The two leaders will “discuss deepening the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China” including “on the international stage”, the Russian Presidency said in a statement, adding that “important bilateral documents will be signed “.

Beijing-Moscow relations were tumultuous during the Cold War, but the two neighbors have grown significantly closer in recent decades to stand together in the face of US influence.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in September on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan.

During this first meeting since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, they showed their desire to support each other and strengthen their ties in the midst of a crisis with Westerners.

The Russian president had visited Beijing a few months earlier for the Winter Olympics. The two leaders had then proclaimed their “unbounded” friendship. A few days later, Vladimir Putin launched his troops against Ukraine.

The announcement of Xi Jinping’s trip to Russia comes the day after a telephone conversation between Chinese and Ukrainian foreign ministers.

“China fears that the crisis is getting worse and spiraling out of control,” Chinese Minister Qin Gang told his interlocutor, according to a statement from his ministry.

“She hopes that all parties will keep calm, exercise restraint, resume peace talks as soon as possible, and return to the path of a political settlement.” »

A wish that seems for the moment pious. On Friday, Moscow raised its voice after Slovakia announced the upcoming delivery to Ukraine of 13 Mig-29 fighter jets, becoming the second NATO country after Poland to make such a decision.

The Kremlin immediately denounced an “increasing involvement” of NATO countries in the conflict with Kyiv.

“The delivery of this military equipment, as we have repeatedly said, cannot affect the outcome” of the conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Of course, this equipment will be destroyed.”

In February, China issued a 12-point document urging Moscow and Kyiv to hold peace talks.

The text opposes any recourse to nuclear weapons and calls for respect for the territorial integrity of all countries – also implying that of Ukraine, part of whose territory is under Russian control.

This document was greeted with caution by Westerners because China has never publicly condemned Russia.

“Whether (China) really steps up its efforts to play a peacemaking role […] will depend on what it comes up with in meetings with Russian and Ukrainian leaders,” he told AFP. Ja-Ian Chong, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the National University of Singapore.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Chinese president has never spoken with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

But according to the American daily The Wall Street Journal, a conversation could take place after Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

Last month, the Ukrainian president had expressed his wish to exchange with his Chinese counterpart. “It will be important for global security. China respects territorial integrity and must do everything to get Russia out of the territory of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.