President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is set to meet with Xi Jinping, the leader of China, on Thursday in Uzbekistan, a summit meant to signal the strength of the relationship between the two authoritarian leaders at a time of increasing animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas.
Mr. Putin, who has become more isolated by the United States and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine, has faced a spate of recent losses on the battlefield. Mr. Xi, who is under pressure as the country’s zero-Covid policy hurts the economy, needs to project power in the weeks before a meeting of the country’s Communist Party leadership.
The two will meet at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multilateral, security-focused organization that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations.
Upon his arrival late Wednesday in Uzbekistan, Mr. Xi was greeted at the airport in Samarkand by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who unlike Mr. Xi was not wearing a mask. Chinese state media showed dancers and musicians in traditional costume performing and then energetically applauding as Mr. Xi walked into the arrival hall.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi last met in February, before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. In a 5,300-word statement, they declared a friendship with “no limits” and criticized the influence of the United States in their regions.
Russia invaded Ukraine days after the end of the Beijing Olympics, and China has refused to criticize Mr. Putin’s actions or refer to the conflict as a war.
Chinese support is important to Russia. China bought record levels of Russian oil in May, June and July. But Beijing has been careful to avoid violating sanctions on Russia that could lead to it being punished as well.
For Mr. Xi, the meeting is also a chance to resume his role as a global statesman. It is his first trip abroad since he went to Myanmar in January 2020. He traveled to Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of return to Chinese control on July 1, his first trip outside mainland China since the start of the pandemic.
As he tries to build up a regional power base, Mr. Xi went to Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a brief stop at the start of his trip before heading to Uzbekistan in the evening. Mr. Xi used a 2013 trip to the country to announce a vast international investment and development program that became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.
When President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia meets Xi Jinping of China on Wednesday, the two autocratic leaders are expected to display a united front against what they consider to be American hegemony.
However, Mr. Putin is also looking to China as a lifeline at a time of weakness. Russian forces have suffered significant losses on the battlefield in Ukraine, and as Western sanctions continue to inflict damage on the Russian economy, Beijing has emerged as a major buyer of Russian products.
Mr. Putin is likely looking for something more substantial than a statement of ongoing support, analysts say. He also hopes to close a deal on a critical pipeline that could allow Moscow to export more Siberian natural gas to China rather than Europe, at a time when Europe is seeking to rapidly reduce energy imports from Russia because of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who researches Russia, China and Central Asia, said that while China would seek to show support for its neighbor, the meeting is not as crucial for Beijing as it is for Moscow.
“I think for Xi Jinping it is not an important meeting,” Mr. Umarov said. “By contrast, for Vladimir Putin this is the most important thing he’s doing in Uzbekistan.”
Beijing is likely to remain cautious in its support for Russia, especially over the issue of Ukraine, analysts say. Providing additional help to Russia, either economically or militarily, risks running afoul of Western sanctions and imperiling China’s economy.
“I don’t think Xi Jinping is ready to show much support for Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Umarov said. “But for Russia it is very important to show it has friends, it’s not isolated and that it is still welcome in some parts of the world.”
KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — A salvo of cruise missiles slammed into the industrial Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih on Wednesday, damaging a dam and sending water gushing downstream.
Videos on social media showed pedestrian bridges being washed away and foamy white water rising along the river banks in the city, in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces are carrying out a counteroffensive. Residents said that a large dam was hit on the Inhulets River, a strategic waterway, and many were worried about flooding.
As the water level of the river rose on Wednesday night, local officials urged people who live nearby to evacuate. Residents would be taken by bus to shelter at local schools, said Oleksandr Vilkul, the military governor of Kryvyi Rih.
“If the water has not reached you, it will come soon,” Mr. Vilkul wrote on his Facebook page.
About 100 cubic meters of water was leaking from the dam every second, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky. “This is a significant volume,” he said in a post on the messaging service Telegram. “And the water level in the Inhulets River changes every hour.”
Mr. Zelensky condemned the attack in his nightly address.
Russia was hitting “objects that have no military value at all,’’ he said, speaking in Russian. “You are weaklings waging a war against civilians.”
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of targeting civilian infrastructure in response to recent battlefield losses in the northeast, where a fast-moving offensive reclaimed a swath of territory outside the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Earlier this week, Russian forces knocked out electricity to much of the city, though it has been restored.
Military analysts suggested the Russians may have targeted the dam to make the river level rise and frustrate Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south. The Inhulets separates the bulk of Ukraine’s forces from their Russian counterparts.
The missile strike occurred around 5 p.m., shattering the quiet of what had been a placid afternoon in Kryvyi Rih, Mr. Zelensky’s hometown.
At one school, volunteers sewed fabric camouflage coverings, for soldiers to cover their checkpoints or equipment. Several participants said they have felt more motivated after a string of Ukrainian military victories over the past week liberated thousands of square miles of occupied territory.
“I know it will take more time,” said Oksana Savosko, who used to work in a grocery store and now volunteers to help the war effort. “But I can already feel the mood of victory.”
Oleksandr Chubko, Oleksandra Mykolyshyn and Vivek Shankar contributed reporting.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was involved in a car accident in the capital, Kyiv, on Wednesday evening but was not seriously hurt, his spokesman said on Facebook.
Mr. Zelensky made no mention of the incident in his nightly address, which was released after his return to the capital. The president had earlier traveled to Izium in the northeast of the country to honor Ukrainian soldiers who recaptured the city from Russian forces just days ago.
“The president was examined by a doctor,” said the spokesman, Serhiy Nikiforov. “No serious damage was detected.”
The driver of the car that struck Mr. Zelensky’s motorcade was treated by doctors accompanying the president, Mr. Nikiforov said, adding that the circumstances of the accident were under investigation. He gave no further details of the location of the crash.
Mr. Zelensky’s decision to remain in the Ukrainian capital when Russian forces invaded the country in February became a symbol of Ukraine’s defiance.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have forced the Russians back from Kyiv, as well as from the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, in a significant setback for the Kremlin.
Responding to a report that former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico met with officials in Moscow this week, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that private citizens should not negotiate prisoner exchanges with the Russian government.
The spokesman, Ned Price, was asked at a press briefing about a CNN report that Mr. Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has a long history of brokering the release of detained Americans from foreign countries, had traveled to meet with Russian leaders this week.
The Biden administration has been working for months to win the release of two Americans imprisoned in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. In June, the United States offered to release a notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence, in exchange for Ms. Griner, a W.N.B.A. star, and Mr. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and corporate security professional, both of whom the United States says have been wrongfully imprisoned.
Asked about the CNN report, which did not provide details about Mr. Richardson’s talks, Mr. Price initially declined to comment. But upon further questioning, he seemed to confirm the visit, saying that “this trip was not coordinated in advance with the embassy.”
A spokesman for Mr. Richardson declined to comment on whether he had visited Moscow this week, or on Mr. Price’s remarks.
Although Mr. Price said that the State Department had been in touch with Mr. Richardson’s office, he appeared to criticize Mr. Richardson’s efforts, stressing that an official channel between Washington and Moscow should be used to discuss a possible prisoner exchange.
“Our concern is that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to hinder the efforts that we have undertaken to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Mr. Price said.
He added that “private citizens attempting to broker a deal do not, and cannot, speak for the U.S. government.”
President Biden plans to nominate a career diplomat, Lynne M. Tracy, as his next ambassador to Russia, a source familiar with the plan said on Wednesday.
Ms. Tracy currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed John J. Sullivan, who left Moscow earlier this month and plans to retire. Her pending nomination was reported by CNN.
Ms. Tracy would arrive in Moscow at the darkest moment for U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War. The war in Ukraine has virtually halted diplomacy between America and Russia, although both countries continue to operate thinly staffed embassies in one another’s capitals. U.S. officials have said that maintaining some ties is important to avoid misunderstandings and protect vital interests.
A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ms. Tracy served as deputy chief of mission, or the second-ranking official, at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2014 to 2017. She has also been senior adviser for Russia affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and has worked at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Ms. Tracy is no stranger to difficult assignments. While serving in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2008, her car was attacked by militants and riddled with bullets, although no one was harmed. She was later given an award for heroism by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Since Mr. Sullivan’s departure, the embassy in Moscow has been managed by Elizabeth Rood, a foreign service officer who became deputy chief of mission in Moscow in June. The State Department and White House declined to comment.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Ukrainians from all walks of life to take to the battlefield, among them Oleksandr Shapovalov, a prominent dancer and teacher who traded in his ballet shoes for a gun, and learned how to launch grenades.
This week, the Kyiv-based National Opera of Ukraine said in a statement that Mr. Shapovalov, 47, a soloist with the National Opera, had died on Monday “under enemy mortar shelling,” the latest victim in a war that has upended Ukraine’s close-knit cultural community.
The Ukrainian defense ministry, in a Twitter post, confirmed Mr. Shapovalov’s death. “He took up arms and became an ordinary soldier,” the ministry said. “The stars of the stage fade over time. Oleksandr’s star will shine eternally.”
It was unclear where Mr. Shapovalov, who joined a volunteer army in April, had sustained his injuries; Ukrainian news outlets said he had died in a battle near Donetsk.
Mr. Shapovalov, a teacher at the Kyiv Choreographic College, was a prolific dancer who had performed in more than 30 ballets and operas, including Bizet’s “Carmen” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”
His death prompted an outpouring of remembrances from other artists. The choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, who grew up in Ukraine and is now the artist in residence at American Ballet Theater in New York, said that Mr. Shapovalov had danced in his first ballets in Kyiv.
“He died defending his land with arms in his hands,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Eternal memory and gratitude to the Hero!”
Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine had a lively ballet scene that included five major theaters across the country, each with a ballet school, as well as other theaters and private academies. Their graduates often headed to important companies, including the Royal Ballet in London and the Bolshoi in Moscow.
The war, however, has buffeted the lives of many dancers. Some, like Mr. Shapovalov, have taken up arms in their country’s defense or have been working to get medical supplies to the frontline. Many others have fled the country, settling elsewhere in Europe to escape the violence and to keep dancing.
The projection of Ukrainian culture has taken on added resonance during a war intent on destroying it. Mr. Ratmansky has supported Ukraine by staging “Giselle” with a company made up of Ukrainian refugees that is performing this week in London.