By Guy Faulconbridge and Laurie Chen
MOSCOW/BEIJING (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to China this week to meet Xi Jinping, the Kremlin chief's first trip outside the former Soviet Union this year.
What are the five things to watch for at the meeting?
As Defence Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for more than six weeks, China watchers will be looking at who takes the lead in any talks with Russian military officials oncooperation.
Li was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 for an arms deal hesecured with Russia in an earlier role. General Liu Zhenli, thehead of the military body responsible for China's combatoperations and planning, has emerged as the top contender forthe job.
For China, Russia is a not only a major source of oil andgas: the world's biggest nuclear power is also a rich potentialsource of technology as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) seeksto modernise its conventional and nuclear forces by 2035.Russian aviation, rocket and even submarine technology has beenshared over recent decades with China, according to a 2022assessment by the U.S. Department of Defence.
China and Russia closely cooperate on civilian nuclearplants - some of which could be used to produce military gradeplutonium, such as the fast breeder rectors at Xiapu.
WEAPONS FOR WAR?
China has refrained from condemning Russia's operationagainst Ukraine or calling it an "invasion" in line with theKremlin which casts the war as "a special military operation".
The United States has warned China against sending anyweapons to Russia, though China is the second largest importerof Russian crude after India and thus supports Russia's economy.
China has denied reports in Western newspapers that it hassent weapons to Russia.
Both Putin and Xi like to project a close friendship: Putinonce delivered Russian ice creams - Chistaya Liniya's "Eskimo"and "Plombir" - to Xi on his birthday while Xi is the only worldleader to have celebrated Putin's birthday with him.
During a 2019 visit to Russia where both leaders signed offa package of trade deals and admired pandas at Moscow zoo, Xitold Russian media: "President Putin is the foreign colleaguethat I have interacted with most extensively. He is my bestfriend, and I greatly treasure our friendship."
Xi also awarded Putin a friendship medal in 2018, sayingthat "Putin is my best close friend".
Putin said in March that he had invited Xi to his privateapartment in the Kremlin. He said they had a fireside chat overtea.
OIL AND GAS
The heads of Russian energy giants Gazprom andRosneft, Alexei Miller and Igor Sechin, will joinPutin's retinue during his visit to China, sources familiar withthe plans have told Reuters.
Russia wants to secure a deal to sell more natural gas toChina and plans to build the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, whichwould traverse Mongolia and have an annual capacity of 50billion cubic metres (bcm).
That compares to the 38 bcm the currently operational Powerof Siberia is expected to reach by 2025.
The proposed pipeline would bring gas from the Yamalpeninsula fields in western Siberia to China, the world's topenergy consumer and a growing gas consumer. The price has yet tobe agreed.
Trade between Russia and China soared 30% in the first halfof this year and will rise to more than $200 billion in 2023,Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said on a visit toChina.
Russia is now China's second largest trade partner outsideAsia, second only to the United States, which accounted for halfa trillion in trade in the first nine months of this year.Russia accounted for $176 billion and Germany $158 billion.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Alison Williams)