Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in China on Thursday to meet with counterpart Xi Jinping as he seeks greater support from Beijing for his war effort in Ukraine and his isolated economy.

This is Putin’s first trip abroad since his March re-election and the second in just over six months to China, an economic lifeline for Russia after the West hit it with unprecedented sanctions over its military offensive in Ukraine.

Russian television broadcast footage of Putin being welcomed by Chinese officials and an honor guard as he got off his plane for the two-day state visit. The state news agency Xinhua also reported his arrival.

Xi, who returned last week from a three-nation tour of Europe, has rebuffed Western criticism of Beijing’s ties with Moscow. He has enjoyed cheap Russian energy imports and access to vast natural resources, including steady gas shipments via the Power of Siberia pipeline.

But as the economic partnership comes under close scrutiny in the West, Chinese banks fearing US sanctions that might cut them off from the global financial system have begun turning the screws on Russian businesses.

The Kremlin this week said the two leaders would discuss their “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” as well as “define key areas of development of Russian-Chinese cooperation and exchange views on international and regional issues”.

Putin, in an interview published in Xinhua ahead of his visit, also hailed Beijing’s “genuine desire” to help resolve the Ukraine crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Xi in Beijing last month, warned China’s support for Russia’s “brutal war of aggression” in Ukraine had helped Russia ramp up production of rockets, drones and tanks — while stopping short of direct arms exports.

China claims to be a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict and the foreign ministry in Beijing said the two leaders will exchange views on “bilateral ties, cooperation in various fields, and international and regional issues of common interest”.

Putin and Xi are set to sign a joint declaration following the talks, the Kremlin said, and attend an evening marking 75 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Putin will also meet Premier Li Qiang — China’s number two official — and travel to the northeastern city of Harbin for a trade and investment expo.

James Edgar with AFP