Senior Chinese officials told their Russian counterparts to delay sending in Vladimir Putin’s troops into Ukraine until after the Winter Olympics had finished, an intelligence report has claimed.
The New York Times quoted Biden administration officials and a European official who cited a Western intelligence report about the agreement.
The Times said the intelligence report indicated senior Chinese officials had some level of knowledge about Russia’s plans or intentions to invade Ukraine before Moscow launched the brutal operation last week.
A source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters that China had made the request but declined to provide details. The source declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
‘The claims mentioned in the relevant reports are speculations without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China,’ said Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters news agency.
After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Russia unleashed a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and south on February 24, just days after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics ended.
The intelligence on the exchange between the Chinese and Russian officials was collected by a Western intelligence service and is considered credible by officials reviewing it, the Times reported.
Senior officials in the United States and in allied governments passed it around as they discussed when Russian President Vladimir Putin might attack Ukraine but intelligence services had varying interpretations, the Times said, adding that it was not clear how widely the information was shared.
One official the Times said was familiar with the intelligence said the material did not necessarily indicate the conversations about an invasion took place at the level of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin.
While visiting Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in February, Putin signed important agreements with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
The two countries notably agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the financial sector and on the supply of gas.
China has denounced sanctions against Russia and blamed the US and its allies for provoking Moscow. However, China also has a good relationship with Ukraine and values stability.
In January, President Xi marked 30 years of ties with Ukraine, hailing the ‘deepening political mutual trust’ between them.
In a call on Friday, Xi told Putin that China ‘respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations’ and called for negotiations to calm the crisis.
The report came after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that ‘demands’ Russia ‘immediately’ withdraw from Ukraine, in a powerful rebuke of Moscow’s invasion by a vast majority of the world’s nations.
After more than two days of extraordinary debate, which saw the Ukrainian ambassador accuse Russia of genocide, 141 out of 193 United Nations member states voted for the non-binding resolution.
China was among the 35 countries which abstained, while just five – Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Belarus, and of course Russia – voted against it.
Explaining China’s abstention, Ambassador Zhang Jun used more emotional language than at previous U.N. meetings, citing ‘dramatic changes of the situation in Ukraine’ and calling what is unfolding ‘heart-wrenching.’
He reiterated Beijing’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and for the peaceful settlements of all disputes in line with the U.N. Charter.
‘The top priority right now is to ease the situation on the ground as much as possible, and prevent the situation from escalating or even getting out of control,’ Zhang said.