MM. Xi and Putin will be joined in the city of Samarkand, a key stop on the ancient Silk Road, by the leaders of India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and other countries for a two-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
If the main meeting of this summit will take place on Friday, it is the bilateral meeting between the Chinese and Russian presidents on Thursday which will be the most scrutinized, their countries being at the heart of international diplomatic crises.
For Mr Putin, who is trying to accelerate a pivot to Asia in the face of Western sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, this summit is an opportunity to show that Russia is not isolated on the World Scene.
Mr. Xi, who is making his first foreign trip to Central Asia since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, may further cement his stature as a top leader ahead of a Chinese Communist Party congress in October where he is aiming for a third unique mandate.
Their meeting also has an air of defiance thrown at the United States, which has taken the lead in sanctions against Moscow and military support for kyiv, and which has drawn the ire of Beijing with the visit of several American officials to Taiwan.
- "Alternative" to the West -
"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization offers a real alternative to Western-oriented structures," Kremlin diplomatic adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Tuesday.
It is the "largest organization in the world, which includes half the population of the planet" and it works for a "just international order", he added.
Ahead of the arrival of the leaders in Samarkand, a former major crossroads of trade routes between China and Europe, movement in the city, placed under high security, was restricted and the airport closed to commercial flights.
The streets of this city known for its mosques and mausoleums covered with blue mosaics were almost deserted on Wednesday, AFP journalists noted. Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday.
The SCO, whose members are China, Russia, India, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, was created in 2001 as a tool for political, economic and security cooperation competing with Western organizations .
It is not a military alliance like NATO, nor a political integration organization like the European Union, but its members work together to address common security challenges and promote trade.
The conflict in Ukraine, the situation in Afghanistan or even the unrest that has shaken several Central Asian countries in recent months should be among the main topics discussed.
- Bilateral meetings -
The main session of the summit this week will take place on Friday, but the main focus will be on the multiple bilateral meetings scheduled on the sidelines.
Thus, in addition to Xi Jinping, Mr. Putin will meet separately on Thursday with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, whose country wants to join the SCO, and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and on Friday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Before the summit, Xi Jinping went to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, where he met the president.
The last meeting between MM. Putin and Xi date back to last February, when the Russian president visited the Winter Olympics in Beijing, days before the launch of Moscow's offensive against Ukraine.
Without explicitly supporting Russian military intervention, Beijing has repeatedly expressed its support for Moscow, isolated in the West, in recent months.
Moscow, for its part, called the visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August a “provocation”.
And last month, China took part in joint military maneuvers in Russia, before agreeing to settle its gas contracts with Moscow in rubles and yuan. And no longer in Western currencies.