China and Russia have been strengthening their economic, diplomatic and military ties for years. Mr Xi and Mr Putin met 37 times as national leaders for their talks in Beijing ahead of the Olympics. The ambitious joint statement the two nations made at that meeting alarmed American and European officials, especially as it marked the first time China has explicitly sided with Russia on issues related to NATO and European security. European leaders have denounced China and Russia in recent weeks, including in speeches at the Munich Security Conference.
For months, some US officials tried to recruit China to avert a war in Ukraine.
Days after President Biden spoke to Mr Xi at a Nov. 15 video summit, senior US officials decided to present intelligence about Russia’s troop build-up around Ukraine to senior Chinese officials in an attempt to get them to persuade Mr Putin to pull out. steps. The Americans spoke with, among others, Qin Gang, the Chinese ambassador to Washington, and Wang Yi, the foreign minister. At half a dozen meetings, including one in Washington between US officials and the Chinese ambassador just hours before the Russian invasion, Chinese officials expressed skepticism that Mr Putin would invade Ukraine, US officials said.
After a diplomatic exchange in December, US officials received intelligence showing that Beijing had shared the information with Moscow and told the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord and that China would not try to hinder Russia’s plans and actions, US officials said. .
The findings of US intelligence and assessments of Russian plans to invade Ukraine were generally correct. The Americans launched a campaign last fall to share intelligence with mostly allies and partner countries and to present declassified material to the public to put pressure on Russia to stop a planned invasion. William J. Burns, the CIA director, flew to Moscow on November 2 to confront the Russians with the information, and on November 17, US intelligence officials shared their findings with NATO.
British officials had estimated that an attack by Mr Putin ahead of the Olympics was possible but unlikely, according to multiple officials briefed on London intelligence. That was based in part on the Western intelligence report, but mostly on an analytical assessment that Russia’s plan to lift Western sanctions relied heavily on China’s support and the idea that Putin would not risk angering Xi.
British officials also believed that the joint statement by Mr Putin and Mr Xi in early February was a clear sign of China’s support, something Beijing would not have given had Mr Putin been willing to overshadow the Olympics through his attack for the end of the Games, according to those familiar with British thinking.
US intelligence agencies saw Moscow making final preparations around Feb. 10, the kind of moves that immediately precede an attack.