Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly framed the conflict in Ukraine as an existential battle against 'Nazism.' AFP

Beijingers praised Vladimir Putin's "charisma" on Thursday and expressed hopes that China would deepen ties with Moscow as the Russian leader paid a two-day visit.

Putin's war in Ukraine, which began with the February 2022 invasion, is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and has made the Russian president a pariah in much of the world.

However, as he sat down with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the capital, where a government that has not condemned the war strictly controls access to the media, Beijingers told AFP they thought highly of him.

Much attention was paid to Putin's physical appearance. The Russian leader has famously been photographed shirtless to cultivate his "strongman" image, something that would be unthinkable among China's typically more staid political leadership.

"I think he shows a lot of self-confidence and I get the impression that he likes to exercise and take care of his body," said 30-year-old financial worker Keira Che.

"In short, he's someone who is charismatic," she said.

Accountant Linda Li acknowledged that she doesn't follow politics very closely but, she said, "I've always found Putin very handsome!"

Some said they saw friendship between China and Russia as a force for peace, echoing the two leaders' framing of their ties as a bulwark against instability in a chaotic world.

"The international situation is unstable at the moment. China and Russia therefore need to strengthen their cooperation, no matter in which area," said internet sector worker Bao Bo, 30.

"Russia is a nuclear power so it's not a country you can just strangle, in my opinion," he said.

Putin's visit to China this week is his first trip abroad since his re-election in a March vote that was widely condemned as neither free nor fair.

"This is an important point. It shows that the Sino-Russian friendship remains very strong," said Ian Wu, a 29-year-old administrator.

China-Russia ties are rooted in pragmatism, he said, and "each country is capable of responding to the needs of the other in certain areas".

Analysts say the relationship between China and Russia is increasingly one in which Moscow is the junior partner.

China has provided an economic lifeline for Russia after the West hit it with unprecedented sanctions over its military offensive in Ukraine.

China-Russia trade has boomed since the Ukraine invasion and hit $240 billion in 2023, according to Chinese customs figures.

Che, the Beijing financial worker, said she hoped they could increase trade even more.

"For normal people, you know, economic issues are always the most important," she said.

"It could improve people's lives, especially those of the Chinese who live near Russia."

For Bao, the internet worker, "it doesn't matter whether you like Putin or not".

"The reality is that he is now the Russian president. You have to give him a bit of respect and listen to what Russia has to say."