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Putin to visit China for first time in two years to discuss global security, gas supplies

Apart from participating in the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the agenda of the visit will include Russian-Chinese talks

MOSCOW, February 4. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a one-day visit to China on Friday, to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in person for the first time since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Apart from participating in the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the agenda of the visit will include Russian-Chinese talks. The delegation of Russian officials accompanying Putin will only have five members - Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov and Rosneft chief Igor Sechin.

Start of a new era

In the run-up to his visit to China, Putin wrote an article for China’s Xinhua news agency, titled ‘Russia and China: A Future-Oriented Strategic Partnership.’ In the article, the Russian leader emphasized that Russia and China "are close neighbors bound by centuries-old traditions of friendship and trust." "We highly appreciate that Russian-Chinese relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, entering a new era, have reached an unprecedented level and have become a model of efficiency, responsibility, and aspiration for the future," Putin noted.

He pointed out that "the basic principles and guidelines for joint work were defined by our countries in the Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, the twentieth anniversary of which we celebrated last year." "These are, first and foremost, equality, consideration of one another's interests, freedom from political and ideological circumstances, as well as from the vestiges of the past. These are the principles we are consistently building on year after year in the spirit of continuity to deepen our political dialogue. Despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we are striving to dynamically build the capacity of economic partnerships and expand humanitarian exchanges," the Russian leader wrote.

Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov earlier told reporters that although it was impossible to organize a face-to-face meeting between the Russian and Chinese leaders earlier, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "dialogue and constant contacts between the leaders continued for the past two years."

He also described the upcoming summit as a new era in the Russian-Chinese partnership, which will begin when the extended Friendship Treaty comes into force on February 28.

During a video linkup about a month ago, Xi Jinping told Putin he was "looking forward to our Olympic meeting."

Agenda of talks

Chinese media described Putin’s visit not only as "the first face-to-face meeting of the two states’ leaders in the past two years," but also as an "important event in international relations at the start of the year." Putin reaffirmed this positive vision in his article.

"During the upcoming visit, the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping and I will thoroughly discuss key issues on the bilateral, regional, and global agendas. It is symbolic that our meeting will take place during the Spring Festival - the Chinese Lunar New Year. After all, as the Chinese saying goes, 'make your whole year's plan in the spring,’" he wrote, adding that "special attention" will be given to the development of business ties.

"There is every opportunity for this as our countries have substantial financial, industrial, technological and human resources allowing us to successfully resolve long-term development issues," the Russian leader continued. "By working together, we can achieve stable economic growth and improve the well-being of our citizens, strengthen our competitiveness, and stand together against today's risks and challenges."

Speaking about the schedule of the upcoming visit, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that bilateral events will begin prior to the opening ceremony of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games and will continue during a one-on-one official lunch.

"A lunch in the one-on-one format is scheduled to take place after the negotiations. This format would allow addressing most important international and bilateral problems and issues with maximum sincerity and trust," the aide said.

The Kremlin official added that Russia attached great importance to these talks, and hoped that the meeting would be very useful in terms of bilateral relations and coordination of joint steps on the international arena.

The world of instability

Prior to the visit, Putin said that discussions on relevant international topics would constitute an important part of his visit to Beijing, as both countries play an important stabilizing role in the challenging international environment of the present day, promoting the democratization of the system of interstate relations.

From the Chinese side’s point of view, the upcoming talks would have a very significant political element. China is demonstrating full and adequate understanding of Russia’s stance in the talks with the US on security guarantees, Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov has told reporters at a news conference in Beijing. The cooperation between Russia and China is a powerful deterrence factor for the spread of tensions in the world and a factor of stabilization of the regional and international situation, he added.

"I believe that the very cooperation between Russia and China, the cooperation in all areas is itself a powerful deterrence factor for the spread of tensions, a factor of stabilization of the regional and international situation," the envoy underscored.

According to Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov, the two leaders are expected to sign a joint statement on international relations in the new era and global sustainable development. The document has already been prepared beforehand for the talks. According to the presidential aide, the document "will reflect the shared views of Russia and China on the most important global problems, including security issues."

Gas deals and more

Ushakov noted that the two states plan to "adopt a very solid package of bilateral documents - intergovernmental, interdepartmental and commercial." He remained tight-lipped which documents are in question, since "their coordination is still underway." Nevertheless, the Kremlin official added that "more than 15 contracts and agreements are in the folder that is being prepared for the meeting." According to him, the new documents "will contribute to the further development of relations in various domains between Russia and China."

However, special attention would obviously be paid to Russian-Chinese energy cooperation. According to the General Administration of Customs of China, the volume of trade between Russia and China in 2021 amounted to $146.88 bln, up 35.8% year-on-year. During his press conference in late January, the Russian ambassador to China mentioned several possible agreements.

He said that the project to deliver Russian natural gas to China via Mongolia was not the only possible route for Russian energy supplies.

"There is another project, envisaging deliveries of natural gas from Russian Far Eastern deposits, including those on the Sakhalin Island. It is another project being discussed at the moment. And, I would say, the discussion has reached a high degree of final documents' readiness," he said.

So far, there has been only one route to deliver Russian gas to China. Power of Siberia is the largest gas transportation system in eastern Russia, which supplies gas to Russian consumers in the Far East and China. The export capacity of the gas pipeline is 38 bln cubic meters of gas per year.

The first pipeline deliveries of Russian gas to China via the pipeline began in December 2019 under a 30-year contract signed between Gazprom and China's CNPC back in 2014. The annual volume of gas supplies reaches 38 bln cubic meters, the volume of the contract is $400 bln. The project was expected to reach the design capacity by 2025. In 2020, Gazprom supplied 4.1 bln cubic meters to China via the Power of Siberia of gas from the Chayandinskoye field. In 2021, deliveries via the Power of Siberia continue to increase and regularly exceed daily contractual obligations, the gas holding noted earlier.

Ushakov also confirmed that Russia and China were preparing many gas agreements in the run-up to Putin’s visit, adding that they will become a new step in the expansion of the relationship between the two countries in this area. He was not ready to provide comments on the documents that are being finalized in detail though.

"But in the gas sector many agreements are being prepared. I cannot say so far, which of them will be signed. But the visit will obviously mark another step in the development of gas cooperation," the Kremlin aide noted.

Surprise for the president

The Russian ambassador said the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has had its effect on the Russian president’s visit.

"This time, the situation is way more difficult, and it’s hard to plan something apart from the official program - something like negotiations and talks - due to sanitary restrictions. That is why <…> we did not add any events to the schedule of the visit apart from the official ones," Denisov said. "The opening ceremony of the Olympics will be the main cultural event of the visit."

"I can only guess, of course, but it seems to me that Chinese President Xi Jinping would definitely prepare some sort of a surprise for our president. We know nothing about it, and so we will wait," he added.