Chinese officials reportedly told senior Russian officials in early February to hold off on invading Ukraine until after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which concluded on February 20.
A Western intelligence report shows signs that senior officials in China has at least some level of knowledge regarding Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine before it began last week, senior Biden administration officials and a European official told The New York Times.
President Vladimir Putin had met with President Xi Jinping on February 4, shortly before the opening ceremony of the games.
"Moscow and Beijing issued a 5,000-word statement at the time declaring that their partnership had 'no limits,' denouncing NATO enlargement and asserting that they would establish a new global order with true 'democracy,'" The New York Times reported.
Intelligence on the exchange between the two country's officials had been classified, and was collected by a Western intelligence service and considered credible by officials that reviewed it.
"However, different intelligence services had varying interpretations, and it is not clear how widely the information was shared," The New York Times reported.
One official familiar with the materials told the outlet that they did not necessarily indicate that the conversations regarding an invasion took place at the level of the two leaders.
When questioned by The New York Times by email on whether Chinese officials had urged their Russian counterparts to delay their invasion, Liu Pengyu, the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, said, "These claims are speculation without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China."
American and European officials have reportedly said that they find it difficult to believe it’s a mere coincidence Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24, didn’t start until right after the Olympics, despite building up troops along the eastern border near Ukraine in the months leading up.
British officials had assessed that an attack by Putin before the Olympics was possible but unlikely, according to multiple officials briefed on London’s intelligence.
That assessment was partially based on the Western intelligence report, but mostly on an analytic assessment that Russia’s plan to overcome Western sanctions was highly dependent on China’s support and the belief that Putin would not risk angering Xi.
The British officials also assessed that the joint statement issued by the Russian and Chinese leaders was a clear sign of China’s support, something that the country would be hesitant to give if Putin was planning to overshadow the Olympic Games, people familiar with the British thinking told The New York Times.
In assessments that Russia could ignore China’s desire to maintain peace through the Olympics, some US officials said that Putin had a number of considerations, including wanting to attack before the readiness of Russia’s troops declined, and not wanting to be seen as overly deferential to another world power.
China has closely aligned itself with Russia throughout the invasion, with the two growing increasingly close over previous years.
Chinese officials have condemned the sanctions placed on Russia by the US and other Western nations, with Guo Shuqing, chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, saying "As far as financial sanctions are concerned, we do not approve of these, especially the unilaterally launched sanctions because they do not work well and have no legal grounds."
"We will not participate in such sanctions. We will continue to maintain normal economic and trade exchanges with relevant parties," he said.