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New Zealand’s Nico Porteous wins gold in a windy freeski halfpipe final

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on February 4. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

In the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese officials and state media have repeatedly accused the United States and its allies of trying to “sabotage” the Games, attacking their diplomatic boycotts over China’s human rights record.

But the past two weeks have shown that it was Russia – China’s close friend and strategic partner – that ended up partially eclipsing the Games, both in and out of the sporting arena.

At the start of the first week, one of the most watched events of the Games, figure skating, was rocked by a doping scandal surrounding Russian skater Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old favorite for the gold medal. After a stunning performance on her Olympic debut, it was revealed that Valieva had tested positive for a banned substance in December – an explosive controversy that quickly dominated global media attention to the Games.

And thousands of miles from Beijing, the massive buildup of Russian military forces near Ukraine’s borders has sounded alarm bells across Europe and beyond. Fears of a full-scale invasion by Moscow have left much of the Western world on edge.

For the host nation, both are unwanted distractions from their big moment in the global spotlight. But given Beijing’s close relationship with Moscow – which both sides have described as being at the “highest level in history” – he cannot risk being perceived as critical of Russia.

After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Chinese capital earlier this month to show his personal support for the Games, attending an opening ceremony shunned by most Western leaders.

And as the doping saga and the Ukraine crisis made headlines around the world, China downplayed both issues for its domestic audience.

On Tuesday, all eyes were on Valieva as she took to the ice in the women’s short program. Although she was cleared to compete by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, her positive drug test still hung over the event, potentially preventing her from winning a medal if she made the podium.

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s news bulletin Meanwhile in China, a tri-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. Register here.

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New Zealand’s Nico Porteous wins gold in a windy freeski halfpipe final

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