President Xi Jinping’s summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games highlights the closeness of the leaders and their nations. But coming amid growing United States-led pressure against Moscow for a military build-up on its border with Ukraine and threatened Western sanctions, the meeting takes on international significance. What measure of support will be expressed and the nature of agreements struck are not clear, although a spotlight on the two powerful men at such a critical time for global stability will itself make a salient point. Dialogue, not sabre-rattling and provocation, are what the world needs to prevent an increasingly dangerous situation from escalating. Putin will be the first world leader Xi has met face-to-face in almost two years, signifying the importance of relations between Russia and China. A diplomatic boycott of the Games by the US and several allies due to alleged Chinese human rights violations and a decision by a number of other national heads to not attend as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will ensure the Russian president is the highest-profile foreign guest. The two have met 37 times as heads of state and during their last talks, a video call in December, Xi greeted Putin as his “old friend” and they agreed to further strengthen ties and build a global financial and political system not dominated by the US. China has joined Russia at the United Nations Security Council to try to block action over Ukraine, and State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week called for Russia’s security concerns as a result of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troop build-up in countries neighbouring Russia to be taken seriously. Tensions are rising as the leaders prepare to meet. Western fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are mounting with 100,000 soldiers on the border and, despite repeated denials of any planned attack by Moscow, the US has deployed 3,000 troops to bolster Nato forces in Germany, Poland and Romania. Washington is also threatening sanctions against Russian businesspeople and officials. There is every need for talks between the West and Moscow. Cool heads, not troop deployments and rhetoric, are crucial for all involved.