Putin and Xi Jinping: Why are they meeting as Ukraine makes gains - what will they discuss at the SCO summit?

The Russian and Chinese President will meet in Uzbekistan that will show an "alternative" to the Western world, the Kremlin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet Xi Jinping, China’s president, on Thursday afternoon (15 September) to discuss Ukraine, according to Putin’s foreign affairs adviser.

It comes as his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky is also courting major allies as the country seeks to prop up their efforts in the war following recent advances.

Both Putin and Xi Jinping will meet in Uzbekistan at a summit that will show an "alternative" to the Western world, the Kremlin said.

Putin hopes to further cement his ties with the Chinese President.

It is a geopolitical alliance that has increasingly been seen as a potential counter to the western powers.

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Why are they meeting?

China’s leader Xi Jinping is travelling to Uzbekistan to meet Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, which will run from 15-16 September.

Both will meet world leaders including those of India, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.

But Putin’s meeting with China’s leader "is of particular importance", said Kremlin foreign policy spokesman Yuri Ushakov.

He said the summit was taking place "against the background of large-scale political changes".

They are set to discuss the war in Ukraine and other "international and regional topics", the Kremlin added.

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Xi is making his first trip overseas since the start of the pandemic, and is seeking a historic third term while Putin’s relations with the West plummet over Ukraine.

Putin will be taking his second foreign trip since the Russian and Ukraine war, as he met with Iranian and Turkish leaders this summer in Tehran.

Both China and Russia have long sought to position the SCO, founded in 2001 with four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, as an alternative to Western multilateral groups.

What will they discuss?

The Chinese leader told Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov he wanted construction to start on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway “at an early date,” according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

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The route will reduce China’s dependence on Russia and Kazakhstan to transit goods.

Before the summit began on Thursday, Xi said in a statement that he wanted to “deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, and promote the sound and steady development” of the forum.

Xi’s sitdown with Putin at the SCO will be their first in-person exchange since declaring a “no limits” friendship in Beijing back in February.

Putin ordered an attack on Ukraine weeks later, and China has since provided verbal backing for Moscow.

Xi and Putin “planned to discuss both the bilateral agenda and key regional and international topics” on Thursday, Putin aide Yury Ushakov told Russia’s Tass news agency.

Putin’s aide added that the Ukraine and Taiwan issues will be discussed.

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Destroyed armoured vehicles litter the road in Balakliya, Kharkiv region, on Saturday, after Ukrainian troops drove out Russian forces from the area (Picture: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images)

Where have Ukraine made gains?

Ukraine has pushed through Russian front lines in the Donbas region taking thousands of square miles of territory, Western defence officials have said.

The advance appeared to be around Izyum and 45 miles north in the nearby town of Kupiansk, which was pressured by Ukrainian forces.

These are two key strategic cities in the Russian lines through the Donbas.

Russia’s defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov said its troops were being regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas to the Donetsk region as the Ukrainian counter-offensive made significant advances.

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD), in an online briefing on Saturday (10 September), said it believed the Ukrainians had advanced as much as 30 miles.

The MoD has said: “Russian forces were likely taken by surprise.

“The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns.”