Moscow: China’s Xi Jinping flew into Moscow today as some two dozen world leaders headed to Russia for a grandiose World War II victory parade that has been 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 tomorrow (local time) with 16,000 troops and a display of hardware including the latest generation Armata tanks.
Xi sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin today for talks that were expected to yield some 40 joint agreements, according to the Kremlin, with reports saying they could range from possible energy cooperation to cyber security.
“We are very happy to see our Chinese friends at a time when the whole Russian people are celebrating victory,” Putin said at the start of the meeting, state-run agency RIA Novosti reported.
South African President Jacob Zuma and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic were also among the leaders arriving today ahead of the parade, while Indian President Pranab Mukherjee arrived yesterday.
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 yesterday, 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.
In a sign of closer ties with China, a column of its troops will march in the parade for the first time. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Xi would sign “quite an impressive package of documents,” the Interfax news agency reported, but there is little expectation that the two sides will top the massive energy deals they inked last year.
Instead the likely documents include a declaration on cooperation between a Kremlin-backed trade bloc made up of ex-Soviet allies Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus and China’s initiative to develop a Silk Road Economic Belt running West through Asia to the markets of Europe.
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.