Senior Chinese officials told their Russian counterparts in early February not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, March 2.
The Times said a Western intelligence report suggests that senior Chinese officials had some knowledge about Russia’s plans or intentions to invade Ukraine before it actually happened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talked with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4 before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Moscow and Beijing released a 5,000-word statement at that time proclaiming that their partnership had “no limits,” condemning North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion and insisting that they would create a new global order with true “democracy.”
The intelligence on the exchange of the Chinese and Russian officials was classified. It was gathered by a Western intelligence service and deemed credible by officials. Senior officials in the United States and allied governments passed it around as they debated on when – not if – Putin might invade Ukraine.
Various intelligence services, however, had different interpretations and it is not clear how broadly the information was shared.
An official familiar with the intelligence mentioned the data did not necessarily show the conversations about an invasion. Other officials informed on the intelligence refused to provide more details. The officials talked about the report on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.
“These claims are speculation without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China,” said Liu Pengyu, the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, when asked via email whether Chinese officials had advised Russian officials to postpone the Ukraine invasion until after the Winter Olympics.
Putin deploys more troops in eastern Ukraine right after Winter Olympics
China held the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 20. The following day, Putin called for more Russian troops to enter an insurgent-controlled region of eastern Ukraine. On Feb. 24, the Russian military started an all-out invasion of Ukraine, attacking cities with ballistic missiles, artillery and tanks.
American and European officials have stated they find it hard to believe it is sheer chance that Russia’s invasion did not begin until right after the Winter Olympics. In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia during the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, which bothered some Chinese officials.
This winter, Russia transported military groups from its border with China and other parts of the east to near Ukraine and to Belarus to get ready for the invasion. The actions signified a top level of trust between Russian and Chinese officials.
China and Russia have been enhancing their economic, diplomatic and military ties for decades. Xi and Putin met 38 times as national leaders, including their latest meeting in Beijing. The joint statement that the two countries released during that meeting frightened American and European officials, since it was the first time China had clearly sided with Russia on matters concerning NATO and European security.
European leaders have criticized China and Russia since then. (Related: China slams US, NATO for provoking Russia to invade Ukraine.)
US asked China to help prevent Russian invasion
For months, a few American officials tried to enlist China’s help to prevent the war.
Days after Brandon talked to Xi in a video summit on November 15 last year, senior American officials shared intelligence reports on the Russian troop movement around Ukraine to senior Chinese officials in an effort to convince them about coaxing Putin to back off.
The Americans spoke to Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador in Washington, and to Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister. In the meetings between U.S. officials and the Chinese ambassador just hours before the Russian invasion, American officials stated that Chinese officials expressed doubt that Putin would invade Ukraine.
After a diplomatic exchange last December, U.S. officials received intelligence showing Beijing had given the information to Moscow, telling the Russians that America was trying to plant discord and that China would not try to hinder Russian plans.
U.S. intelligence results and evaluations of Russian plans for an invasion of Ukraine have usually been accurate. The Americans started a campaign last fall to share intelligence with mostly ally and partner nations and to present declassified information to the public to create pressure on Russia to stop any planned invasion. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns flew to Moscow last November 2 to challenge the Russians with the information, and on Nov. 17, American intelligence officials gave their findings to NATO.
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