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Xi Jinping praises Vladimir Putin’s ‘strong leadership’ in Kremlin talks

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Xi Jinping has praised Vladimir Putin’s “strong leadership” as China’s leader began a state visit to Moscow demonstrating his crucial support for Russia’s president more than a year into the invasion of Ukraine.

The two leaders put on a united front after meeting in the Kremlin on Monday, calling each other “dear friend” as they exchanged tributes and plugged a Chinese peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.

Russia’s president welcomed Beijing’s attempt to mediate with Ukraine and told Xi he had “acquainted himself in detail” with the peace proposal, which he commended for following “principles of fairness”.

The meeting was the first part of a three-day state visit to Russia that began on Monday and marks what Putin and Xi called a relationship flourishing in spite of western pressure over the war.

China has provided an economic lifeline to Russia that has helped ease the blow from western sanctions, while Xi’s 12-point peace plan largely repeats the talking points the Kremlin has used throughout the war, without condemning Putin’s invasion or calling on him to withdraw troops.

The US, Ukraine’s most important ally, has said China’s peace plan amounts to “the ratification of Russian conquest” by calling for a ceasefire that would codify Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory and give Moscow time to replenish its depleted forces.

Ukraine, however, has avoided criticising the plan ahead of an expected call between Xi and president Volodymyr Zelenskyy following the Chinese leader’s trip to Russia, which would mark the first time they have spoken since the war began in February last year.

Xi’s visit signifies China’s embrace of Russia amid Moscow’s deepening stand-off with the west, which has drawn the two countries closer together thanks to a mutual distrust of the US.

Xi emphasised that Russia was the first country he had visited after being reappointed president for an unprecedented third term this month. Referring to next year’s Russian elections, he said he was “certain that the Russian people will continue to firmly support [Putin]”.

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Both Xi and Putin have amended their state constitutions to allow them to rule for longer. Putin, who can remain in power until at least 2036, has not commented on his potential candidacy for a fifth term in office but quietly smiled as the interpreter translated Xi’s well-wishes.

Putin said: “Over the last few years, China has made a colossal leap forward in its development. This arouses genuine interest all over the world and we are even a bit jealous of you.”

China’s political and economic system, which is recovering from three years of isolation under Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy, is “much more efficient than in many other countries”, Putin added, because “it combines market mechanism with a fairly confident political course”.