Bolstering Asia ties, Putin watches military drills with China
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President Vladimir Putin attended large-scale military exercises on Tuesday involving China and several Russia-friendly countries, as Moscow seeks to strengthen partnerships in Asia in the face of Western sanctions.
Russia has found itself increasingly isolated as tensions between Moscow and Western capitals soared since Russia sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
Putin on Tuesday attended the Vostok-2022 manoeuvres that are being held in training grounds in Russia Far East and in the waters off its eastern coast, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told local news agencies.
Putin was meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and military chief of staff Valery Gerasimov at the Sergeyevsky military range and would later observe the final phase of the military exercises, Peskov was quoted as saying.
Similar drills were last held in 2018.
Putin's visit to Russia's Far East will continue on Wednesday in the port city of Vladivostok where he is expected to address the Eastern Economic Forum.
Over 5,000 people will be taking part in the four-day forum that kicked off on Monday with the largest delegation hailing from China, according to the Kremlin.
Li will become the highest-ranking Communist party politician to travel to the country since Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine.
- 'No limits' relationship -
"Russia-China relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation are developing progressively," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the meeting.
It also noted "China's balanced approach to the Ukraine crisis" and Beijing's "understanding" of the reasons behind Russia's offensive.
Beijing and Moscow have drawn closer in recent years, ramping up cooperation as part of what they call a "no limits" relationship, acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.
Beijing has refused to condemn Moscow's intervention in Ukraine and provided diplomatic cover by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv, heightening tensions between China and the West.
Tensions were further strained during the August visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers its territory.
Moscow was in full solidarity with Beijing during the visit, with Putin accusing Washington of "destabilising" the world.
In a sign of further rapprochement, Russia announced Tuesday that China will be switching from US dollars to the national currencies of the two countries -- yuan and rubles -- to pay for deliveries of Russian natural gas.
The new payment system is "mutually beneficial" and will "become an excellent example for other companies", CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, said in a statement.
In response to Western sanctions, Russia has reduced gas deliveries to several European countries -- causing energy prices to soar -- and is seeking to boost deliveries to markets outside Europe.
Russia's largest bank Sberbank meanwhile announced Tuesday that it started issuing loans in Chinese yuan in response to a "strong demand" in Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.
At the economic forum, Putin was also expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Myanmar junta chief Min Aug Hlaing.
Russia and China have been accused of arming Myanmar's junta with weapons used to attack civilians since last year's coup.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had visited Myanmar and Cambodia in August, on Tuesday was hosting Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai.
Later in the month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit scheduled for September 15 and 16 in Uzbekistan could also become an opportunity for Moscow and Beijing to further cement ties.
The two leaders last met in Beijing in early February ahead of the Winter Olympics Games and days before Putin launched an offensive in Ukraine.