China’s state media have said the Wagner mutiny in Russia threatens Vladimir Putin’s “political stability” in a rare criticism of Moscow from Beijing.
Over the weekend, the Kremlin was on the verge of collapse after Wagner’s warlord and former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered his mercenary army to storm the Russian capital on Friday, in what he called a “march For justice”.
But with its soldiers reaching 120 miles from Moscow, the Wagner group halted its advance, withdrew from the southern Russian city of Rostov and returned to its bases late Saturday under an agreement guaranteeing its security.
Although he survived the riot, analysts have said Putin’s position has never been weaker, and the crisis shows the world just how divided Russia is.
This has not gone unnoticed in China, with state media The Global Times saying the situation was “in the direction that the West and Ukraine would prefer”.
China’s state media have said the Wagner mutiny in Russia threatens Vladimir Putin’s “political stability” in a rare criticism of Moscow from Beijing. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Moscow on March 21.
Writing for the Global Times, writer and former editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (pictured) predicted that the Wagner mutiny would have a major impact on Russia’s security and that mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin would meet a “tragic” end.
Since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022, leaving it internationally isolated, China has become Russia’s most important ally.
But analysts have said the weekend’s once-in-a-generation security crisis compounded fears in Beijing that Russia, a central strategic partner for its global ambitions, is not as stable as it had hoped.
China officially intervened on Sunday night, more than 24 hours after the riot began, with Beijing pledging its support for Russia’s efforts to “protect national stability.”
The Foreign Ministry also said the issue was an “internal matter.”
By the time the ministry issued its statement, the rebellion in Russia had been put down, and the Kremlin announced that Prigozhin would go to Belarus and that Moscow would not prosecute him or the Wagner members.
Writing for The Global Times, also just before Wagner withdrew his force, writer Hu Xijin predicted that the mutiny would have a major impact on Russia’s security and that Prigozhin would meet a “tragic” end.
“Overall, the Wagner mutiny has had a significant impact on Putin’s administration and Russia’s political stability,” Xijin wrote.
Anything could happen next. But I have a bold judgment: whatever the Russian political scenario next, Prigozhin’s personal political end will be tragic.
Mr. Xijin, the former secretary of the Communist Party publication, also said the situation was “trending in the direction that both the West and Ukraine would prefer.”
He stated that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia on the battlefield and therefore must rely on efforts to “stimulate and fuel internal unrest in Russia.”
Meanwhile, the state-run China Daily in another article urged Russia and Ukraine to renew their efforts for peace talks.
“Now is the time for all peace-loving countries in the world to join the cause of persuading the two belligerents to sit down and talk,” the China Daily article said.
“No country is in a position to savor the schadenfreude experience while witnessing the drama of Moscow as if safely watching a deadly fire from across a river.
“China is ready to work with all parties in seeking a political solution to the Ukraine crisis, and will do everything possible to facilitate the process of diplomatic negotiations and create and accumulate conditions for the final solution of the crisis.” added the piece.
Over the weekend, the Kremlin was on the brink of collapse after Wagner’s warlord and former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin (seen on Saturday) ordered his mercenary army to storm the Russian capital on Friday, in what which he called a “march for justice”.
Analysts say they believe Beijing took a “wait and see” approach to the crisis, prompted in part by an understanding that the rebellion exposed fissures in Putin’s control.
“China has already been shocked by Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine,” Susan Thornton, a former US diplomat specializing in Asia, told AFP.
“This event will probably be seen as yet another indicator of weakness/decline.”
China’s leaders have long framed Putin’s Russia as a bulwark against the West.
Before the latest riots, Beijing likely “didn’t doubt that Putin is the undisputed leader of Russia,” said Victor Shih, an expert on China politics at UC San Diego.
But with his authority challenged in such a “blatant” way, Professor Shih told AFP that “China will now think a lot about the power dynamics in Russia.”
China is Russia’s biggest economic partner, with trade between them reaching a record $190 billion last year, according to Chinese customs data.
Chinese imports of Russian crude since the invasion of Ukraine have nearly doubled, customs data showed earlier this month.
Beijing says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine war but has been criticized by Western countries for refusing to condemn Moscow and for deepening their partnership.
“It was probably quite a shock to Beijing and to Xi Jinping personally that all of Russia’s internal defense mechanisms failed,” Bjorn Alexander Duben, an expert on Beijing-Moscow relations at China’s Jilin University, told AFP.
“You’ll certainly want to learn lessons from that.”
China has long grappled with dramatic events linked to its northern neighbor: its leadership points to the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and the chaos that followed as a vindication of Beijing’s rigid system of rule.
“China is used to these dramatic changes in Russia, even if they don’t necessarily like them,” Yu Bin, a professor at the University of Wittenberg.
Events over the weekend could also accelerate Beijing’s efforts to act as a peacemaker in a bid to end the Ukraine war on Moscow’s terms.
State media The Global Times said that the situation in Russia and Ukraine “tends in the direction that the West and Ukraine would prefer.” Pictured: A BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system is seen in action near the front lines in Ukraine, June 25.
“The latest events are likely to lead to a new low in Chinese assessments of Russia’s statehood and political stability in Russia,” said UC San Diego professor Shih.
“This is a clear sign that the invasion of Ukraine is undermining fundamental stability in Russia.”
According to Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, China may have calibrated its response in part out of concerns about embarrassing an ally. “China is moving very, very carefully,” he said.
“I think the insurrection in Russia was a surprise, you see the (Chinese) media and everyone is very cautious about official statements.”
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