China leader heads to Olympics; to meet with Putin

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Russian soldiers raise China's flag as the Chinese Olympic delegation watches during a team welcoming ceremony before the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping departed Wednesday for the Sochi Olympics and talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in what state media portrayed as a sign of warming relations between the neighbors and former communist rivals.

Xi's presence at the games "shows the world that China firmly supports Russia in hosting a successful sports event," China's Xinhua News Agency said.

Xi pointedly made Russia his first foreign destination after taking over as president last March, and Russia and China have frequently joined forces in the United Nations and elsewhere to challenge Western leadership in global affairs.

The two countries also dominate the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group dedicated in part to curbing American influence in Central Asia.

Russia is also an increasingly important supplier of oil and gas to China's economy, the world's second largest.