President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is set to meet with Xi Jinping, the leader of China, on Thursday in Uzbekistan, a summit meant to signal the strength of the relationship between the two authoritarian leaders at a time of increasing animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas.
Mr. Putin, who has become more isolated by the United States and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine, has faced a spate of recent losses on the battlefield. Mr. Xi, who is under pressure as the country’s zero-Covid policy hurts the economy, needs to project power in the weeks before a meeting of the country’s Communist Party leadership.
The two will meet at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multilateral, security-focused organization that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations.
Upon his arrival late Wednesday in Uzbekistan, Mr. Xi was greeted at the airport in Samarkand by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who unlike Mr. Xi was not wearing a mask. Chinese state media showed dancers and musicians in traditional costume performing and then energetically applauding as Mr. Xi walked into the arrival hall.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi last met in February, before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. In a 5,300-word statement, they declared a friendship with “no limits” and criticized the influence of the United States in their regions.
Russia invaded Ukraine days after the end of the Beijing Olympics, and China has refused to criticize Mr. Putin’s actions or refer to the conflict as a war.
Chinese support is important to Russia. China bought record levels of Russian oil in May, June and July. But Beijing has been careful to avoid violating sanctions on Russia that could lead to it being punished as well.
For Mr. Xi, the meeting is also a chance to resume his role as a global statesmen. It is his first trip abroad since he went to Myanmar in January 2020. He traveled to Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of return to Chinese control on July 1, his first trip outside mainland China since the start of the pandemic.
As he tries to build up a regional power base, Mr. Xi went to Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a brief stop at the start of his trip before heading to Uzbekistan in the evening. Mr. Xi used a 2013 trip to the country to announce a vast international investment and development program that became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.