RUSSIA – After President Vladimir Putin’s 23-year rule was threatened by a brief rebellion, China threw its support behind Russia. Despite its short duration, commentators agree that the uprising exposed “the irreconcilable conflict between Russia’s top political and military leaders”, as well as weaknesses in Putin’s chain of command. They go on to say that it could be a precursor to a Russian defeat in the Ukraine war and is testing relations between Beijing and Moscow.
China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Sunday evening dismissing the one-day takeover of the Wagner mercenary group as “Russia’s internal affair”. “As Russia’s friendly neighbor and comprehensive strategic coordinating partner for the new era, China supports Russia in maintaining national stability and achieving development and prosperity,” the statement continued. Andrey Rudenko, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, traveled to Beijing on Sunday to meet with Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his deputy, where he received support from China. According to a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the sessions focused on topics of international and regional interest to both sides, and they reaffirmed their close cooperation. The head of the Wagner mercenary organization Yevgeny Prigozhin and the current situation in Russia were not mentioned in the statement. The Associated Press reported that Rudenko’s trip was unexpected.
Although not officially allies, China and Russia remained in close contact throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Before war broke out, Moscow and Beijing said their partnership went beyond a traditional alliance and had “no limits”. Chinese netizens rallied in support of Russia over the weekend. A Weibo user from Chongqing, Sichuan hailed Putin as a “hero, who easily relinquished (Chief Wagner’s) military command”. However, a Weibo user in Beijing asked his compatriots to be reasonable and “support whoever will benefit China”. In a telephone interview with VOA Mandarin on Sunday, Xueliang Ding, a retired professor from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said Russia has not fully moved away from the brink of civil war.