Vladimir Putin has refused to host a top Chinese official tipped to become China's next prime minister due to his busy agenda ahead of polls putting a strain on bilateral ties, a newspaper said Wednesday.
Kommersant broadsheet, citing sources in the Russian-Chinese inter-governmental commission, the Russian foreign ministry and the government, said that vice Premier Li Keqiang tagged to become China's next prime minister, had wanted this month to visit Russia to meet Prime Minister Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev.
The newspaper said that Li had however cancelled the visit because the Russian government indicated Putin would not be available to host him due to his busy agenda ahead of March presidential elections in which the Russian prime minister plans to win back his old Kremlin job.
"There's so much fuss over these elections, there's no time for him," the newspaper quoted a government source as saying. Putin is facing the worst legitimacy crisis of his 12-year rule, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in December.
The Kremlin also did not give a definitive answer as to whether Medvedev would be available to mee with Li, who has never been to Russia before, the report said.
A new generation of leaders must take over the reins of power in China within a year. President Hu Jintao will end his second five-year term as party head this year, while Li is expected to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao who will resign in 2013.
The reported cancellation of the visit comes after Russia declined Hu's proposal to conduct a joint forum of the two countries' ruling parties during Putin's visit to China last October ahead of parliamentary elections in Russia, Kommersant said.
Russian foreign ministry officials are hoping Li could visit Russia later in the year, the newspaper added.
Russia, the world's largest energy producer, and China, the world's largest energy consumer, set much store by their bilateral ties.
Putin has paid frequent visits to China in his capacity as president and prime minister since he took power in 1999.
In 2010, he hosted Vice President Xi Jinping who is widely expected to take over Hu's posts as head of the party and head of state.