WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Beijing Winter Olympics could affect the timing of any Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday, adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping would not be happy if the two were to coincide.
Sherman, who led a U.S. delegation in talks with Russian officials in Europe earlier this month, said she did not know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had made the decision to invade, but that indications suggested an invasion could come between now and mid-February.
“We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics are beginning on February 4th, the opening ceremony, and President Putin expects to be there. I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine,” Sherman said during a virtual conversation hosted by Yalta European Strategy.
“So that may affect his timing and his thinking.”
Putin on Tuesday weighed in on a diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States and other Western nations over China’s human rights record, saying he opposed the “politicization of sport.”
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine urged American citizens in Ukraine to consider leaving the country now, saying that the security situation in the country was “unpredictable due to the increased threat of Russian military action”.
The United States and its allies have warned Russia of harsh sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine, but some 100,000 Russian troops remain near the border with no signs of de-escalation.
Russia says the crisis is being driven by NATO and U.S. actions, and is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine.
Sherman said the United States was preparing for all kinds of scenarios, including a “full-on invasion,” but said even a single Russian soldier entering Ukraine would be a very serious matter.
“It breaches all of the principles of international security and says that another country can act with impunity, which has tremendous consequences for Ukraine and Europe,” Sherman said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Nick Macfie)