Putin meets China's Xi as leaders head to Moscow for WWII parade

8th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

China's Xi Jinping flew into Moscow on Friday as some two dozen world leaders headed to Russia for a grandiose World War II victory parade snubbed by the West.

Russia will roll out its military might at the Red Square parade to mark 70 years since victory over Nazi Germany from 10:00 am on Saturday (0700 GMT) with 16,000 troops and a display of hardware including the latest generation Armata tanks.

Putin called Xi "our great friend" after a meeting at the Kremlin where the two leaders of the neighbouring countries that once shared a Communist ideology said they agreed to strengthen economic ties.

"President Putin and I held detailed and friendly talks," Xi said, adding that they agreed on the need for "further broadening of Russian and Chinese ties."

The two leaders signed a joint declaration on cooperation between a Kremlin-backed trade bloc made up of ex-Soviet allies Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and China's vision of a Silk Road Economic Belt running West through Asia to the markets of Europe.

"We are talking about the prospect of entering a new level of partnership with a shared economic space on the whole Eurasian continent," Putin said.

The two sides signed memorandums on deals including Chinese investment in a high-speed rail line linking Moscow and the Volga city of Kazan.

"The Chinese side agreed to finance this project to the tune of around 300 billion rubles (US $5.92 billion)," Putin said.

They also signed an agreement on creating a joint Chinese-Russian company that could acquire 100 of Russia's Sukhoi Superjet 100 jumbo jets over three years in a deal worth around $3 billion and lease them out in Asia.

Putin said the two also discussed joint energy projects, with "substantial results."

Last year, China and Russia inked a 30-year, $400-billion agreement that will eventually involve Moscow supplying Beijing with 38 billion cubic metres of gas annually.

"The Russian side has already started building the gas pipeline while work on Chinese territory starts in the near future," Putin said.

China is Russia's largest trade partner.

Putin and Xi last met in November at the APEC summit in Beijing, when Putin breached protocol by wrapping China's first lady in a shawl.

- Chinese troops to march -

In a sign of closer ties with China, a column of its troops will march in the parade for the first time.

Xi stressed Russia and China both suffered huge losses in World War II.

"Our peoples suffered the heaviest national losses," he said in comments translated into Russian. "The peoples of Russia and China fought shoulder to shoulder."

South African President Jacob Zuma and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic were also among the leaders arriving Friday ahead of the parade, while Indian President Pranab Mukherjee arrived Thursday.

Western leaders have opted not to attend the event as they are locked in a bitter standoff with Russia over the Ukraine crisis, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel will fly in Sunday for a wreath laying ceremony and talks with Putin.

More than 20 national leaders watching the parade will include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Cuban President Raul Castro, who met Putin for talks on Thursday, as well as Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

The gaps in attendance are a sign of Russia's shifting standing in the world as it has pivoted towards bolstering alliances in Asia, South America and Africa in the face of Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Putin was later Friday to meet the heads of the CIS group of ex-Soviet countries including Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is making his first trip abroad since he won a new five-year term in a one-sided election last month.

In a congratulatory note to mark the anniversary, Putin saluted the leaders of the former Soviet republics that fought alongside Moscow in the war but pointedly opted to congratulate only the "citizens" of Ukraine and not the countrie's pro-Western authorities.

© 2015 AFP

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