Chinese officials requested senior Russian officials to wait until the completion of the Beijing Olympics before beginning an invasion on Ukraine, a Western intelligence report revealed on Wednesday night. US officials broadly view the report as credible. However, its specifics are subject to interpretation, according to one person acquainted with the intelligence.
According to senior Biden administration officials and a European official, senior Chinese officials made the request in early February after Washington notified Beijing about the Russian force build-up in the hopes that communist leaders would persuade their partner to stand back. However, different intelligence services had varying interpretations, and it is not clear how widely the information was shared.
China Knew About Invasion?
According to the intel report, senior Chinese authorities were to some extent aware of Russia's military plans or intentions before the attack began last week. President Vladimir Putin of Russia met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in February, just before the Olympics' opening ceremony.
At that time, Moscow and Beijing published a 5,000-word statement declaring that their alliance had "no limits," criticizing NATO enlargement, and asserting that they would establish a new world order based on true "democracy."
Russia officially invaded Ukraine four days after the Olympics ended, and Putin escalated his military advance and rhetoric in the hours after the closing ceremony ended.
The Russia-China connection was initially revealed Wednesday by the New York Times, citing White House officials and a Western intelligence report. It was unclear whether the talks reached Xi Jinping and Putin, according to the reports. A China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said it wasn't clear if the authoritarian leaders were in cahoots.
During Putin's visit to China, Western intelligence officials were keeping a close eye on his buildup on the Ukrainian border, anticipating that he would postpone any military action until after the Olympics to avoid enraging China.
A China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said it wasn't clear if the authoritarian leaders were in cahoots.
"Given the evidence we have so far, I think we can't rule out either possibility definitely â that Xi didn't know (which is bad) and that Xi may have known (which is also bad)," Bonny Lin said.
China claimed the Times report was untrue and amounted to a "smear" campaign, in a statement. China announced on Tuesday that it would assist Russia and Ukraine in negotiating a cease-fire.
For years, China and Russia have been bolstering their economic, diplomatic, and military ties. Before their talks in Beijing ahead of the Olympics, Xi and Putin met 37 times as national leaders, the NYT reported.
Interestingly, the Olympics have time and again served as a backdrop to Russian military aggression during Putin's presidency. During the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, China reacted angrily to Russia's invasion of Georgia.
Understandably, Putin didn't want to repeat that this time around.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said, "The claims mentioned in the relevant reports are speculations without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China."
However, Officials from the United States and Europe have indicated they find it difficult to believe Putin's invasion began shortly after the Olympics ended.