Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing this week — a rare international visit by the Russian leader.

Putin will attend a forum marking 10 years of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s global infrastructure program that has helped boost its influence worldwide. 

The visit to Beijing on October 17-18 marks Putin’s first trip abroad since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest in March over the forced transport of children to Russia from Ukraine. China is not party to the ICC. 

Washington and Brussels have been eyeing with alarm the relationship between China and Russia, with Beijing refusing to condemn Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, even as it has voiced support for the principle of territorial integrity. 

Russia has increased its energy exports to China as it grapples with Western sanctions imposed as a response to the invasion of Ukraine. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged China during a three-day trip to the country that wrapped up this weekend to use its influence with Russia, particularly on the U.N. Security Council, to stop the war in the country. He also warned Beijing that “any direct military support to Russia … would be a serious concern for us.”

The European Union is expected to have a summit with China before the end of the year. 

This week’s Belt and Road Initiative Forum takes place against the background of a darkening economic picture for China, which has seen an economic slowdown, propelled in part by a property downturn. Representatives from more than 100 countries are expected to attend the forum in Beijing, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

At the same time, Defense Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for more than six weeks, raising questions about his whereabouts and safety.

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