China’s state media has said Russia’s Wagner mutiny threatens Vladimir Putin’s “political stability” in rare criticism of Moscow from Beijing.
Last weekend, the Kremlin was on the verge of collapse after Wagner 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 within 120 miles of Moscow, the Wagner group halted its advance, withdrew from the southern Russian city of Rostov and returned to its bases late Saturday under a deal that guaranteed their safety.
While he survived the mutiny, analysts have said Putin’s position has never been weaker, with the crisis showing the world just how divided Russia is.
This has not gone unnoticed in China, with state-run outlet The Global Times saying the situation was “a trend in the direction the West and Ukraine would prefer.”
China’s state media has said Russia’s Wagner mutiny threatens Vladimir Putin’s “political stability” in rare criticism of Moscow from Beijing. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Moscow, 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 Russian 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 main ally.
But analysts have said this weekend’s one-off security crisis has heightened fears in Beijing that Russia – a strategic partner central to its global ambitions – is not as stable as hoped.
China officially weighed in on Sunday night — more than 24 hours after the mutiny began — with Beijing pledging its support for Russia’s efforts to “protect national stability.”
The State Department also said it was an “internal matter.”
By the time the ministry issued its statement, the uprising in Russia had been crushed, with the Kremlin announcing that Prigozhin would be leaving for Belarus and that Moscow would not prosecute him or Wagner’s members.
Writing for The Global Times – also just before Wagner stepped down from power – 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, Wagner’s mutiny has had a significant impact on Putin’s government and Russia’s political stability,” Xijin wrote.
“Anything can happen after that. But I have a bold verdict: whatever will be staged in Russian politics, Prigozhin’s personal political end will be tragic.’
Mr Xijin, the publication’s former Communist Party secretary, also said the situation was “moving in the direction that both the West and Ukraine would prefer.”
He claimed that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia on the battlefield and must therefore rely on efforts to “stimulate and foment internal unrest in Russia.”
Meanwhile, the state-run China Daily, in another article, urged Russia and Ukraine to resume their peace talks efforts.
“Now is the time for all the peace-loving countries of the world to join the cause of persuading the two belligerents to sit down and talk,” the China Daily article said.
“No country is able to enjoy the experience of gloating while witnessing the Moscow drama as if watching a deadly fire safely from across a river.
“China is ready to work with all parties to pursue a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine and will make every effort to facilitate the process of diplomatic negotiations and create and gather the conditions for a final solution.” of the crisis’ the piece added.
Over the weekend, the Kremlin was on the brink of collapse after Wagner warlord and former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin (seen Saturday) ordered his mercenary army to storm the Russian capital, in what he called a “march for justice.”
Analysts say they believe Beijing took a “wait and see” approach to the crisis, driven in part by the understanding that the uprising exposed cracks in Putin’s grip.
“China has already been surprised by Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine,” Susan Thornton, a former senior US diplomat who specializes in Asia, told AFP.
“This event is likely to be seen as a further indicator of weakness/decay.”
China’s leaders have long portrayed Putin’s Russia as a bulwark against the West.
Prior to the latest turmoil, “Beijing probably had no doubt that Putin is Russia’s undisputed leader,” said Victor Shih, an expert on Chinese politics at UC San Diego.
But with its authority being challenged in such a “blatant way,” Professor Shih told AFP, “China will now think very carefully about the power dynamics in Russia.”
China is Russia’s largest economic partner, with trade between them reaching a record $190 billion last year, according to Chinese customs data.
China’s imports of Russian crude oil have almost doubled since the invasion of Ukraine, customs data showed earlier this month.
Beijing says it is a neutral side in the war in Ukraine but has been criticized by Western countries for refusing to condemn Moscow and for its deeper partnership.
“It was probably quite shocking to Beijing and to Xi Jinping personally that Russia’s internal defenses all failed,” Bjorn Alexander Duben, an expert in Beijing-Moscow ties at China’s Jilin University, told AFP.
“It will certainly want to learn lessons from that.”
China has long grappled with dramatic events involving its northern neighbor — its leadership points to the Soviet Union’s sudden collapse and ensuing chaos as justification for Beijing’s rigid system of government.
“China is used to those dramatic changes in Russia, although they may not necessarily like it,” said Yu Bin, a professor at Wittenberg University.
The weekend’s events could also accelerate Beijing’s efforts to play peacemaker in a bid to end the war in Ukraine on Moscow’s terms.
State-run outlet The Global Times said the situation in Russia and Ukraine was “moving in the direction the West and Ukraine would prefer.” Pictured: A multi-launch BM-21 Grad missile system is seen in action near the front lines in Ukraine on June 25
“The latest events are likely to lead to a new low in China’s assessments of Russia’s state capacity 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 concern to embarrass an ally. “China is proceeding very, very carefully,” he said.
“I think the uprising in Russia came as a surprise, you see the (Chinese) media and everyone is very careful in the official statements.”