SHANGHAI (AP) — President Vladimir Putin met Tuesday with China's president in a diplomatic boost for the isolated Russian leader but the two sides had yet to agree on a widely anticipated multibillion-dollar natural gas sale.
Putin, shunned by the West over Ukraine, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a start of a two-day meeting on Asian security with leaders from Iran and Central Asia. The Russian leader is hoping to extend his country's dealings with Asia and diversify markets for its gas, which now goes mostly to Europe.
Russia has been negotiating for more than a decade on a proposed 30-year deal to supply gas to China. Officials said they hoped to complete work in time to sign a contract while Putin is in Shanghai. But Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Tuesday it wasn't finalized.
"Significant progress has been reached on gas, but there are issues that need to be finalized regarding the price," Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies. He said a contract could be signed "at any moment."
A deal would give Moscow an economic and political boost at a time of Western sanctions, while pressure on Moscow is thought to give Beijing leverage to push for a lower price.
The U.S. treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, appealed to China during a visit last week to avoid taking steps that might offset sanctions. However, American officials have acknowledged China's pressing need for energy.
In a joint statement, Putin and Xi urged Ukrainians to start "broad nationwide talks" on ending their country's crisis. Russia has been pressing for such talks and they are an element of a peace plan proposed by European mediators. The Ukrainian government has refused to invite separatist rebels in the country's east to participate.
The statement appealed for global rules to limit use of computer technology to hurt state sovereignty, a reference to efforts to curb the spread of online opposition to authoritarian governments. Beijing tries to block material that criticizes one-party rule, while Moscow has tightened controls. An official said last week Russia might block access to Twitter.
Putin and Xi attended the signing of 49 cooperation deals in fields including energy, transport and infrastructure, but no details were given at the ceremony.
The price of gas is the sticking point in the proposed agreement between Russia's government-controlled Gazprom and state-owned China National Petroleum Corp.
A deal looked more likely after Washington and the European Union imposed asset freezes and visa bans on dozens of Russian officials and several companies.