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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in China in rare trip abroad

Russia's President Vladimir Putin arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport to attend the Third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, October 17, 2023. Parker Song/Pool via REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing on Tuesday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a widely watched trip aimed at showcasing the trust and “no-limits” partnership between the countries even as the war in Ukraine raged on.

In only his second known trip abroad since the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in March, Putin and his entourage flew into the Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday morning, according to Reuters video footage.

He was greeted by the Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.

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It is also the Kremlin chief’s first official trip outside of the former Soviet Union this year, after visiting Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, earlier this month.

The ICC, which accused Putin of illegally deporting children from Ukraine, obliges the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory. Neither Kyrgyzstan nor China are members of the ICC, established to prosecute war crimes.

Xi last saw his “dear friend” in Moscow just days after the warrant was issued. At the time, Xi invited Putin to attend the third Belt and Road forum in Beijing, an international cooperation forum championed by the Chinese leader.

Putin is to attend the forum’s official opening reception hosted by Xi and talk with the leaders of Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Laos on Tuesday, Russian media reported.

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As the forum’s chief guest, Putin will speak after Xi on Wednesday and will meet with the Chinese president for bilateral talks later that day.

Beijing has rejected Western criticism of its partnership with Moscow even as the war in Ukraine showed no sign of ceasing, insisting that their ties do not violate international norms, and China has the right to collaborate with whichever country it chooses.

Putin last visited China for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 when Russia and China declared a “no-limits” partnership days before the Russian president sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.

It would be Putin’s third attendance of the Belt and Road Forum, which runs through Wednesday. He attended the two previous forums in 2017 and 2019.

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The forum centres on the Belt and Road initiative, a grand plan launched by Xi a decade ago that he hopes would build global infrastructure and energy networks connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through overland and maritime routes.

Putin has praised the initiative, saying it is a platform for international cooperation, where “no one imposes anything on others.”

Since the start of the Ukrainian conflict, Russia has cemented its energy ties with China in a sign of their economic cooperation.

Russia exports around 2.0 million barrels of oil per day to China, more than a third of its total crude oil exports. Moscow also aims to build a second natural gas pipeline to China.

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While the heads of Russia’s oil and gas giants Rosneft and Gazprom will be part of Putin’s travelling delegation, no new deals in energy can be expected.

The trip is not a “full-fledged bilateral” visit, but one made on the sidelines of an international conference, according to the Kremlin.

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