Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pic: AP.

MOSCOW (AP) — Amid a bitter crisis in relations with the West over Ukraine, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is moving to bolster ties with China.

Putin said in an interview with the Chinese media released by the Kremlin Monday, a day before his trip to Shanghai, that Russia sees relations with China as a top priority.

He said that a deal on Russian natural gas exports to China is close to being signed , adding that it would allow Russia to diversify its export routes and let China meet its growing demand for energy.

Russia, which sends the bulk of its gas exports to the European Union, has been locked for years in difficult talks on a new gas contract with China. Moscow sped up work on the deal amid the Ukrainian crisis.