As Beijing and Moscow step up economic cooperation in the face of Western-led criticism and sanctions, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to meet next week in Uzbekistan.

According to the Russian state news agency Tass, the two leaders will meet on the sidelines of the SCO summit, which will take place in Shanghai on September 15–16.

The meeting is the most recent indication of China and Russia’s improving relations, which have declared a friendship with “no limits” in the face of increasing domestic economic problems and deteriorating ties with the United States and its partners abroad.

In an effort to decrease its dependence on the US financial system after being subjected to repeated rounds of sanctions over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s state-run energy giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with China to settle payments for gas in yuan and rubles rather than US dollars.

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The Xi-Putin discussions would mark the first time the two leaders have spoken face to face since Russia invaded Ukraine, and they take place as the Chinese president prepares to visit Kazakhstan next week to begin his first international trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The gathering takes place only just a few weeks before Xi is anticipated to win an unparalleled third term at the pivotal ruling Communist Party congress scheduled for mid-October.

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Xi and Putin are expected to announce joint economic initiatives in Central Asia, possibly involving new energy pipelines, according to Alicia Garca Herrero, the chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong.

According to Garca Herrero, the talks could also result in the unveiling of Chinese investment or support for specific sectors of Russia’s struggling economy.

Russia’s economic growth has been ravaged by widespread sanctions, with GDP falling by 4% in the second quarter.

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