Facing high-profile snubs from the United States and Germany at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin saw at least one friendly face ahead of the Games opening – Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the Games on Saturday (at 12 midnight, Hong Kong time) on his three-day Russian visit – his first overseas trip this year and his first attendance at a major sporting event, China News Services reported on Friday.
In talks held upon Xi’s arrival at the Russian resort city on Friday, he and Putin vowed to strengthen Beijing-Moscow co-operation on energy, security and trade, Xinhua reported.
Xi welcomed Russia to participate in the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which winds through 24 cities from eight countries in Central and West Asia. The economic zone will be a new platform for the Sino-Russian co-operation, Xi said, according to the report.
Putin, meanwhile, said he was confident that trade between China and Russia, which has already climbed to US$87 billion, would reach the target of US$100 billion by the end of next year.
On security matters, the two leaders held a teleconference with the captains of the Russian and Chinese escort vessels on a multi-nation joint mission to guard the removal and disposal of Syrian chemical weapons.
China had last year supported Russia’s proposal to prevent US military sanctions, in the form of airstrikes, against Syria by instead destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Xi and Putin also decided to jointly commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war next year – an occasion that has become sensitive in Asia owing to Japan’s recent moves and rhetoric to burnish its wartime past – including a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and outright denial of the Nanjing Massacre in China – which has rankled regional neighbours.
Putin equated Xi’s trip to a “visit to good friends” during the meeting. “It is a Chinese tradition to greet friends and relatives during the Spring Festival holiday, and I wish President Xi a great year of horse,” Putin was quoted by state media as saying.
In an interview with Chinese state television, Putin recalled how he spent his 61st birthday with Xi last October. “Last time on my birthday, we drank a little vodka together,” he said. “We even had sandwiches like university students.”
Xi’s decision to attend the ceremony is a positive development for Putin after US President Barack Obama and German President Joachim Gauck both said they would not travel to Sochi, amid international calls to boycott the event after Russia adopted an anti-homosexuality law in June.
With its hosting duties for the Winter Olympics, Russia has sought to bolster its standing on the international stage, but it has been hampered by controversy, including safety concerns at Sochi  amid political unrest, preparations bogged down by corruption, and even inadequate accommodations for guests and media.