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Putin’s Plummeting Political Clout Is A Disaster For Xi

  • As the rebellion unfolded, China maintained a neutral position, echoing Russia's stance on the need for law and order, and later expressed support for Russia in safeguarding national stability.
  • Xi Jinping's association with Putin, a mix of ideology and pragmatism, may be affected by the rebellion as Chinese scholars suggest that such internal conflict could diminish the pragmatic appeal of the Kremlin.
  • According to scholars, the event could lead to Russia's increased reliance on China and may prompt Beijing to adopt a more cautious stance towards Russia.

The dust is still settling on the weekend mutiny launched by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his private Wagner mercenary group that shook Russia and exposed new cracks in Russian President Vladimir Putin's power at home.

But what does it mean for China and its leader, Xi Jinping, who has been Moscow's -- and Putin's -- strongest supporter since the February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine?

Finding Perspective: As Wagner forces seized a major Russian military hub and ordered an armed march on Moscow on June 24, Chinese officials were silent. Chinese state media provided straight, factual coverage as events unfolded on the ground and, unsurprisingly, offered no sympathy for Prigozhin or Wagner, and instead largely echoed rhetoric from Putin's speech about the need for law, order, and stability.

It wasn't until Sunday, June 25 -- after the convoy to Moscow was turned around following a deal brokered by Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka between Putin and Prigozhin -- that Beijing broke its silence.

"This is a matter of Russia's domestic affairs," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "China supports Russia in safeguarding national stability and delivering development and prosperity."

That same day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko flew to Beijing for what was said to be a scheduled meeting, where he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

"Under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin, the Chinese-Russian political trust has continued to deepen," Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said following the meeting.

Why It Matters: Xi now has to balance continuing support for Putin with hedging for the possibility that the Russian leader's time in power could be cut short.

Xi's partnership with Putin is based on a cocktail of ideology and pragmatism, and several Chinese scholars have argued that Prighozin's rebellion could limit the pragmatic appeal of the Kremlin.

Yu Jianrong, a prominent Chinese public intellectual, posted a video to his more than 7 million Weibo followers of Russians in Rostov-on-Don reacting angrily to police moving into the city, where he suggested there was some level of public support for Wagner: "I really don't know what's going on in this country," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Yu Sui, a professor at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies, told the China Daily newspaper the mutiny "undoubtedly rings an alarm bell for Russia" and that the episode reminded him of "the Chinese saying about feeding a tiger and then inviting trouble."

Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international relations scholar, told the Guardian that he believed the events would lead to Russia's increased dependence on China and that Beijing would take "a more cautious stance on Russia."

As Minxin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, wrote in a recent piece for Bloomberg, the invasion and Putin's actions since have provided Xi with a steady stream of lessons "too precious not to learn" when it comes maintaining support of the military, the absence of private armies, and keeping less personalistic control of the state.


When it comes to Prigohzin's rebellion, Mei writes, it's "a reminder to Xi that nationalism is a double-edged sword."


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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on June 29 2023 said:
    Is Western disinformation in action again? President Putin is the unquestioned master of Russia and the Chines-Russian strategic alliance continues to go from strength to strength.

    China under President Xi Jinping needs Russia as much as Russia under President Putin needs China. It is an alliance of equals.

    They are both working hard on ushering in a new multi-polar, fairer and more equitable World Order and a new global financial system.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert
  • DoRight Deikins on June 29 2023 said:
    The dragon is pragmatic. Things go well with the bear, all is well. Things go poorly with the bear, it allows another sharp nail (talon?) in the beast. Either way the Middle Kingdom wins.

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