Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Chinese President Hu Jintao to Moscow Thursday for a four-day official visit. The two leaders are expected to talk on strengthening bilateral relations, especially in the areas of energy and trade.
One day before President Putin was to host his Chinese counterpart, the Kremlin announced that 2006 would officially be named the Year of Russia in China, with the Year of China to follow in Russia in 2007.
The growing sense of accord between the two neighbors, is not lost on analysts. Many say that while this week's talks will not likely lead to any real breakthroughs, they will go a long way toward forging what officials on both sides are calling, a new relationship.
Key to that relationship is bilateral trade. It topped $21 billion last year and Russian government officials predict trade figures could triple over the next five years.
But a lot will depend on whether Russia grants China much wanted access to future Russian oil and gas projects, including a long-sought Trans-Siberian pipeline deal over its rival Japan. So far, Russia has only committed to boost its oil deliveries by rail to energy-starved China by 11 millions tons this year.
Vassily Mikheyev is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Moscow. He says in order for both leaders to advance their countries' positions in the global trade arena, they will have to move forward in the political sphere, as well. And here, Mr. Mikheyev says, it is Russia that is especially challenged.
"There are two approaches to Russian-Chinese relations," said Vassily Mikheyev. "One approach sees China as a partner in [the] suppression of American expansion, as people [here] like to say. I call it [the] old-thinking approach. And another approach is Russia-China relying on [President] Putin's idea, which Putin expressed at the end of 2002. The idea was to create bilateral cooperation with Russia, China and the United States, in order to solve global and regional political issues."
Mr. Mikheyev says the struggle between those two competing ideas is blocking what, he says, would otherwise be real progress in asserting Russia and China's views on the world stage.
Both leaders have said they regret the collapse of the Soviet Union and, at present, find themselves looking for new ways to work together in the face of dramatic changes, perhaps nowhere more so than in Central Asia.
President Hu travels to Kazakhstan early next week for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The regional security body groups Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
The Russian and Chinese leaders will then meet again at the upcoming G-8 Summit in Scotland.