Beijing and Moscow expected to sign more than 40 agreements when President Putin travels to Shanghai on Tuesday

Russia is intensifying its shift towards China as Russia’s relations with the West have sunk to their post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea and has adopted what experts called “positive neutrality” over the conflict.

Putin’s China visit

The two countries are expected to sign a “fantastic package” of more than 40 agreements when President Vladimir Putin travels to Shanghai on Tuesday for a two-day state visit and participation in a regional security summit.

Mr. Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, will oversee the start of joint war games in a sign of closer defence ties between the two countries. At least 16 Russian and Chinese warships will train together in the East China Sea, where China is locked in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan.

Russia and China will undertake eight “strategic projects” in space, rocket engines, aviation and infrastructure, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced after talks in Beijing ahead of Mr. Putin’s visit.

Experts said Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine are pushing Moscow towards military alliance with Beijing.

“While de jure military alliance between Russia and China is unlikely, de facto elements of such an alliance are shaping up,” said Prof. Segrei Luzyanin of the Moscow Institute of International Relations.

Mr. Putin said relations between Russia and China are at their all-time best.

“Establishing closer ties with the People’s Republic of China — our trusted friend — is Russia's unconditional foreign policy priority,” the Russian leader said in an interview to Chinese media.

During Mr. Putin’s visit, Russia and China are expected to sign a commercial agreement for the export of 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year at $350-$380 per 1,000 cubic metres, according to Izvestia daily. The deal will mark a strategic shift for Russian energy exports to Asia and cut Russia’s dependence on the European market.

Energy alliance

Noting that Russia already supplies oil to China under a $60-billion deal, Mr. Putin said that the two countries “are steadily advancing towards building a strategic energy alliance.”

Before leaving Moscow for Shanghai, Mr. Putin issued an intriguing statement on Ukraine apparently designed to ease Russia’s standoff with the West.

The Russian leader said he “welcomes the first contacts between Kiev and supporters of federalisation aimed at launching direct dialogue” between the two sides, according to the Kremlin.

There has been no information about official contacts between Ukrainian authorities and the rebels, and the first two “national unity” roundtables organised by Kiev were held without representatives of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Mr. Putin also said he had ordered Russian troops which had been exercising near Ukrainian borders to return to barracks.

In a sign that Kiev may after all begin talking to the rebels, Mr. Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call on Monday “voiced the hope that the process of constitutional reform and Kiev authorities’ dialogue with the regions” will be continued.

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