Putin heads to China as Ukraine sinks ties with West

Russian President Vladimir Putin heads to China on Tuesday to shore up eastern ties as relations with the West plunge to new lows over the Ukraine crisis.

During a two-day visit to Shanghai, Putin and Chinese host Xi Jinping will seek to clinch a raft of agreements including a landmark gas deal crucial for Moscow as Europe seeks to cut reliance on Russian oil and gas.

The two leaders will also take part in a regional security forum and oversee the start of joint naval exercises off Shanghai in the East China Sea, reports AFP.

putinMoscow’s relations with the United States and European Union have dived to a post-Cold War low in recent months over Russia’s seizure of Crimea and Western accusations the Kremlin is fomenting unrest in the east of Ukraine.

The West has slapped sanctions on some of Putin’s closest allies and threatened broader punitive measures if Moscow disrupts presidential polls in Ukraine on May 25.

Amid the showdown the China trip—previously billed as a visit with a heavy focus on energy ties—has acquired new symbolism, analysts said.

“In the face of sanctions, Russia needs to demonstrate that it is not isolated,” said Pyotr Topychkanov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Centre. “This will be the goal of Putin’s visit. He wants to show that Russia has allies.”

Putin will be joined by a delegation including dozens of business tycoons and regional leaders and will oversee the signing of some 30 agreements, his top foreign adviser Yury Ushakov said.

In recent years Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, have sought to strengthen ties and often worked in lockstep to contain Washington.

Xi made Russia his first foreign destination after taking office last year and attended the Sochi Olympics in March. The crisis in Ukraine has thrown up a hurdle however, with Beijing struggling to support Moscow while maintaining its stance on “non- interference” in other countries’ domestic affairs.