China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, will travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin next week in a visit that could have broad implications for Moscow’s war in Ukraine and the troubled relationship between Beijing and Washington.
Mr. Xi is expected to make a state visit to Russia from Monday to Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin said in statements. It will be his first visit to Russia since the country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
Mr. Xi’s trip will be watched closely by leaders in the United States and Europe who are frustrated with China’s diplomatic and economic support for Russia. Although the two nations have not declared a formal alliance, Beijing maintains deep strategic ties with Moscow as a like-minded nuclear-armed power that seeks to weaken Washington’s geopolitical dominance. Just three weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin visited Beijing, where the two leaders declared a “no limits” friendship.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has warned that China is considering escalating its support for Russia by providing weapons for it to use in Ukraine, an accusation that Beijing has denied.
Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will meet on Monday afternoon in Moscow for a one-on-one conversation and lunch, and the two leaders will also hold a news conference, said the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said that Mr. Xi would use the visit to increase the “mutual trust and understanding” between the two countries, which he said had “established a new paradigm for international relations.”
At the same time, China would seek to play a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine, he said.
“President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia this time is also for peace,” Mr. Wang said when asked whether Mr. Xi would try to push Mr. Putin to seek a political settlement with Ukraine. “China’s proposition can be summed up in one sentence, which is to persuade peace and promote talks.”
He also implicitly criticized Western nations’ tough approach to punishing Russia, saying that “unilateral sanctions” and “extreme pressure” would only worsen the crisis.The Kremlin said that talks between Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi would center on the “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between the two countries.
China has cast itself as a rare neutral party well positioned to negotiate a political settlement between Ukraine and Russia. The country recently released a position paper calling for an end to the war, but the document was widely criticized by Western leaders for lacking concrete plans and avoiding demands that could hurt China’s close ties with Russia.
Mr. Xi has sought to burnish his image as a global statesman, most notably with the announcement last week that Beijing had brokered a surprise deal to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. That agreement came after extensive talks in which both sides had expressed a willingness to mend ties.
Mediating in the war in Ukraine would be a far greater challenge, with neither Ukraine nor Russia appearing ready to negotiate an end to the fighting. Many Western leaders are skeptical about Mr. Xi’s intentions because of his conflicting goals and interests. Beijing has never criticized Russia’s invasion and parrots the Kremlin’s assertion that NATO provoked the war.
It is unclear whether Mr. Xi will also meet or speak separately with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and China spoke over the phone in a rare official contact. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said the two discussed “the principle of territorial integrity.” China said its foreign minister, Qin Gang, told his Ukrainian counterpart that Beijing would “continue to play a constructive role in bringing an end to the conflict, mitigating the crisis and restoring peace.”
Mr. Qin said China was concerned the conflict was dragging on and could “spiral out of control.” He urged both sides to “exercise restraint” and “resume peace talks as soon as possible,” according to the ministry, while referring to the situation in Ukraine as a “crisis” rather than a war.
Mr. Wang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, did not directly answer when asked if the foreign ministers had discussed potential contact between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky, saying only that China continued to “maintain communication with all parties.”
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said on Monday that the United States had been encouraging Mr. Xi to speak to Mr. Zelensky, in part to discourage China from supplying Russia with arms.
“It would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the P.R.C. is approaching this,” Mr. Sullivan said, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. “And we hope it would continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide lethal assistance to Russia.”
In addition to the war in Ukraine, Mr. Xi will also discuss with Mr. Putin how to continue strengthening cooperation between their countries, Mr. Wang said. Asked whether Russia and China would seek a formal alliance, Mr. Wang said they were interested in a “new type of major power relations.”
“This is completely different from the practice of some countries, which cling to a cold war mentality, gang up, engage in ‘small circle’ and factional confrontations, and bully all over the place,” he said.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.
The New York Times