Russia’s attack on Ukraine has not only shaken the foundations of the European security order, but will also have long-term repercussions on the future of international relations. While Ukraine is enjoying universal backing from Western states, Russia has received at least rhetorical support from its “strategic partner” China. Influential voices have cited this constellation as proof of a new global confrontation between democratic and authoritarian camps. In this article, we aim to sketch a more complex picture of the Sino-Russian partnership, as revealed by the war in Ukraine. Based on an analysis of Chinese and Russian official statements and expert commentaries published since shortly before the beginning of the war, we find that it is fundamentally shaped by three factors: a partial and short-term overlap of interests, an underdeveloped normative basis further challenged by Russia’s belligerent behavior, and a pronounced reactivity towards US security agency. Accordingly, closer Sino- Russian alignment is not based on ideological fraternity or a symptom of renewed systemic bipolarity in global politics. Viewing it as such is also a bad guideline for practical policy, as it ignores the differences in both countries’ attitudes towards the status quo of global order, and risks pushing them closer together in further challenges against it.