The closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was Feb. 20. On Feb. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops into eastern Ukraine after giving a speech attempting to justify the move. Three days later, the Russian invasion began in full. There's a possible explanation for why Russia, which had had troops at the border for a while, waited until the Games ended: China told it to. An intelligence report from a Western agency says senior Chinese officials gave the word to senior Russian officials, the New York Times reports.
A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday dismissed the Times report as "speculation without any basis," saying the intent is to "blame-shift and smear China." Although President Xi Jinping met with Putin just before the Olympics began, such a conversation could well have happened at a lower level. US and European officials have trouble believing that Russia coincidentally sprang into action as soon as the Olympics ended. Such a conversation also, of course, would suggest China knew Russia's plans for Ukraine. Intelligence officials of the US and allies, who considered the information credible, shared the report before the invasion, per the Times.
Western officials assumed Putin wouldn't want to cross Xi, because he'd need China's help in dealing with the sanctions that would follow an attack. On Wednesday, China said it won't impose any sanctions of its own on Russia. China has urged peace but has not been hard on Russia in its comments, per the Hill, while trying to get its citizens out of Ukraine. On Feb. 24, China said in a statement that "Russia's Defense Ministry said that its armed forces will not conduct missile, air, or artillery strikes on cities." (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)