(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, the first major head of state to make the commitment amid calls for a diplomatic boycott over human rights issues.
Moscow also hoped Putin would hold an in-person summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the state-run Tass news agency reported Thursday, citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Some politicians in the West, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called for a diplomatic boycott of the games -- refusing to send an official delegation while letting foreign athletes compete -- over human rights issues. The U.S. has said China’s treatment of Uyghurs in its far western Xinjiang region amounts to genocide and warned investors about the risks of doing business in Hong Kong as Beijing tightens its political grip on the financial hub.
Beijing and Moscow have been bolstering ties recently, with Lavrov saying in March that relations between the two were the “best in history.” In May, Xi called for more collaboration on nuclear power between the two nations as he and Putin watched via video the start of a joint project to build four reactors in China.
Late last year the two leaders vowed in a phone call to strengthen “strategic coordination” as the world enters “an era of global turbulence,” a reference to the challenges posed by the U.S.
Xi attended the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, but skipped the same ceremony for the Tokyo games in July. The Chinese leader has not left his country in more than 600 days, the longest stretch among Group of 20 leaders.
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China has taken a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, requiring quarantines of up to 21 days for international arrivals and clamping down on any local flare-ups. Those measures would create obstacles if carried over to the games in February given some 32,000 people -- athletes, team officials, members of the media and sponsors and their guests -- would be expected to travel for the events under normal circumstances.
Putin is self-isolating after being exposed to several people in his entourage infected with Covid-19. Coronavirus deaths in Russia reached an all-time high last month, and only about a third of the population is vaccinated.
Russian athletes must compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics under a neutral flag but not as representatives of Russia as part of penalties imposed by World Anti-Doping Agency. An independent investigation commissioned by the agency found in 2016 that Russian sports officials oversaw a program to manipulate doping test results from 2011 to 2015.
Under the rules, Russian officials are also barred from attending the games unless they are invited by the head of state in the host country.
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