Russia in attaining wealth and progress while upholding national stability.” It ended there! Beijing maintained an unsettling quiet as Tsar Vladimir Putin faced his greatest peril. Erdogan, the president of Turkey, openly backed Putin and offered his assistance at the same time as Iran promised to deploy revolutionary guards to Moscow. China, though, kept silent.
The China Daily’s main article during Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries’ historic 24-hour uprising was captioned, “How Does It Feel to Receive a Reply Letter from President Xi?” China was caught off surprise and oddly mute over this unexpected challenge to the Russian Kremlin. In actuality, China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t react until late on June 25. It said succinctly, “This is a Russian domestic matter. China assists Russia in sustaining national stability and attaining growth and prosperity in its role as friendly neighbor and comprehensive strategic partner of cooperation for the new age. It ended there! Beijing maintained an unsettling quiet as Tsar Vladimir Putin faced his greatest peril. Erdogan, the president of Turkey, openly backed Putin and offered his assistance at the same time as Iran promised to deploy revolutionary guards to Moscow. China, though, kept silent.
Following the scheduled meeting between China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing on June 25, another short and tepid response was made. The two “exchanged views on global and regional issues of common interest,” according to the Chinese authorities. They made a commitment to protect shared interests in the face of a “complex and grim” international climate when Rudenko and Ma Zhaoxu, the vice foreign minister of China, first met. Putin had previously been referred to by Xi as his “best, most intimate friend,” but Xi was very hesitant to provide his backing in this case. It makes one wonder whether Xi really does have close pals abroad. Although he may get along with Putin, their relationship may really be based on their mutual desire to undermine American power and rule their own zones of influence. Xi declares that “the world is undergoing changes unseen in a century” and places China and Russia side by side at the forefront of these developments. However, Xi’s vision seems to be pretty unstable.
The news of the Wagner Group’s uprising is wholly unpleasant and uncomfortable for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), since it contradicts all of Xi’s statements. When Xi and Putin met in March, he was downright giddy about working together to create a new global order. Putin’s grasp on power seems to be far from safe, however. The Xi Jinping Thought Study Outline for 2023 states on page two that “the developmental trend of the rise of the East and the decline of the West is increasingly prominent.” Will Xi’s judgement prove to be arrogant, as the Russian events raise severe concerns. Of course, Xi will justify this by claiming that Western propaganda was to blame for the mutiny—possibly even in his own mind. This development will cause Xi to become really concerned. Putin is a strongman like himself, so how could things have gotten to this point in both Russia’s conflict in Ukraine and the unrest in his military? Despite the fact that Putin’s crumbling façade is beginning to show frightening fractures, Xi views authoritarian control to be the sole effective form of government. During the so-called “white paper protests” of November 2022, when people responded irrationally to Xi’s harsh COVID-19 limitations, China faced its own brief but acute peril. After Putin started a war that nobody desired, China encouraged “national stability” in Russia, but stability will undoubtedly prove false. “Stability” is difficult to achieve and may be more harder to retain.
The constant repetition of “stability” by China throughout the demonstrations in Hong Kong reveals the CCP’s actual aversion to upheaval. What then leads to instability? People. The deep-seated fear of all dictatorial and communist governments is that their subjects would attempt to overthrow the oppressive system. Xi and the CCP cannot tolerate this possibility. We would be well to keep in mind the feverish dread that China experienced during the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s. China was terrified as repressive governments fell one by one because it anticipated a similar situation at home if people started to demand freedom.
The CCP and many common residents are concerned about a domino effect, much as they were during the Arab Spring. They speculate that if Russia collapses, China may be the next. If Putin were to lose power, it may inspire the Chinese people to pursue their own independence or it would leave China as the West’s final stronghold. According to a Chinese saying, the teeth would get chilly if the lips are missing. It implies that two parties might have a shared interest, yet if one party suffers, the other will as well. Many Chinese see the symbiotic connection with Russia in this way, believing that their destinies are intertwined.
In reality, Prigozhin’s goal was to get Putin’s attention and force a conversation about conditions to keep his Wagner Group’s operations going, not to topple the government. When Putin vehemently rejected this attempt to rescue his lucrative business, Prigozhin rapidly retreated from his revolutionary persona. However, the ordinary Chinese netizen would have been completely unaware of this distinction given the dearth of reliable and objective information in that country. Nevertheless, users of Chinese social media furiously wrote and uploaded over the weekend. You can do it, Russia! exclaimed one participant, while many others voiced grave concerns about civil war, saying things like, “The show is on,” “Old friend Putin’s end-game is worrying,” and “This fight ends. The civil war in the “Great Goose” (a slang term for Russia) starts.
One poster compared it to the An Lushan Rebellion in 755 AD, when an emperor’s disgruntled commander and confidant took control of the eastern city and proclaimed himself to be the new emperor. Although his uprising ultimately failed, it did undermine the Tang Dynasty. Other internet users mocked the idea that China might recapture areas it lost to Russia more than a century ago if Russia fell. Naturally, there is a delicate, and sometimes hazy, line between what is acceptable and wrong on Chinese social media. Due to the need for discretion, any opposition to the Ukraine conflict is often subtly expressed or uses indirect language. This may have been the case when prominent liberal advocate Yu Jianrong reposted a video of Rostov-on-Don citizens shouting at Russian police when they entered the city after Wager soldiers had left.
Some internet users could claim that Putin is weak or that the Russian people are sick of war, but this is the farthest they dare to go from the CCP’s official line of thinking. Others expressed concern that the administration had lost confidence owing to corruption or that this insurrection was a “very predictable development”. Beijing’s appraisal of Putin’s conduct is “Bold! “, according to John K. Culver, a senior scholar and nonresident with the Global China Hub of the Atlantic Council. but unable in terms of strategy!” In fact, Russia’s rejection of communist principles and its fall into insignificance have drawn a great deal of ridicule from China. They attribute this to Moscow’s errant ideology, which China will not adopt.
Beijing has a strong strategic interest in making sure that Moscow, and specifically Putin, remain a strong partner in containing US dominance, Culver said. Beijing’s strategic necessity to prevent Russia from experiencing domestic unrest or defeats abroad that may lead to the emergence of a government unfriendly to China is of utmost importance. A quiet 4,200-kilometer border has been one of the Sino-Russian warming relations’ biggest gifts to Beijing. Although Xi may see Putin as a buddy, there should be no doubt that he will only back Putin if it serves his own goals. China dismissed Myanmar’s coup in 2021 as a “internal cabinet reshuffle” and quickly transferred its backing to the military administration, which led to a brutal and lengthy civil war. If it fits its own interests, Beijing won’t hesitate to support a different horse in Russia.
In that regard, China will assist Putin if he continues to rule Moscow, Culver agreed. If Putin is ousted, Beijing will wait for the chaos to pass before cultivating the new power structure. This will give it another opportunity to suggest that Russia withdraw from Ukraine and turn its attention back to long-term rivalry with the US/Western alliance. In reality, Xi has little power to affect or sway events in Russia in relation to his conflict with Prigozhin. China will refrain from overtly picking sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict in order to maintain its flimsy narrative of neutrality.
A major concern is that Xi and China will become more isolated, which would lead to official suggestions that Putin must stay in power. It would be a huge blow for Xi to lose his best strategic friend, particularly given that Russia already behaves as a submissive junior partner. China’s supreme leader has sided with Putin. Xi will also not renounce his ideological animosity against the United States and the West. Political scientist Wen-Ti Sung of the Australian National University made the following observation: “It defies the narrative of Putin as a strong leader who has the support of his people and is here to stay as China’s preferred global partner. Even amid Putin’s highly condemned war on Ukraine, China should continue to back a strong and stable Putin because doing so is an investment in a long-term ally. Supporting Putin, though, is a poor idea if his reign is fragile.
The Wagner Group is the most notable example of how Putin has happily outsourced military activities to the private sector. In Syria, Yemen, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Mali, for example, mercenaries have been fighting for Russian objectives. Such private armed organizations, who operate outside the traditional military line of command, depend on Putin’s patronage networks. Could the Wagner Group-like split among the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) factions occur again? Given the PLA’s rigorous political supervision and allegiance to the CCP, it is quite implausible, but Xi will be troubled by the prospect. Could the PLA develop cracks if he begins a military assault to seize Taiwan and it falters like Putin’s invasion of Ukraine did? This possibility provides Xi fresh reasons to be concerned.
In order to guarantee complete party control over the military, Mao Zedong reorganized the PLA in 1927, according to a statement that one unit of the PLA shared on its Sina Weibo account. This seemed to be a jab at Putin’s Russia, where the military no longer backs him. In light of this, it is apparent why Xi insists on the PLA’s complete devotion to the party; he cannot allow for factions or dissent when he needs the PLA to carry out his orders. The absence of a Chinese counterpart to the Wagner Group is a significant distinction between the two countries. Yes, China employs private security companies in countries like Pakistan to protect its interests, but these organizations are neither powerful or present in China. In the middle of his failing battle, Putin has unleashed a monster that has gotten out of control.
The uprising of the Wagner Group will undoubtedly raise questions about the regular Russian military as well, which is mostly composed of unprepared and fearful conscripts. In Russia, political change often occurs when three things take place: a divided elite, an unsatisfied populace, and the lack of fear. The first two are unquestionably a reality, and if Putin allows Prigozhin to get away with his uprising, he will come across as weak, and prospective enemies will no longer be afraid of him.
The tabloid Global Times said in its defense that “consolidating the authority of the Putin administration in such a short period of time actually quelled the revolt.”This is a delusion since the Wagner Group incident revealed that Putin’s control is not unbreakable; some even assert that he may be nearing the end of his political career. Putin’s government has at the very least lost a lot of its appeal and credibility. Putin is aware that his authority and credibility are under jeopardy the longer his conflict continues, there is no question about it. This lame duck can get even more desperate as a result.