Chinese state media propaganda outlets undermined the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s robust support of Russian leader Vladimir Putin with analyses on Sunday and Monday questioning if Putin could stabilize his country after Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened — and abruptly canceled — an armed march on Moscow.
Prigozhin and his Wagner Private Military Group (PMC) have for years engaged in armed action on behalf of the Putin regime nationwide, most prominently in war-torn Syria and central Africa. Currently, Wagner’s primary mission appears to be aiding the Russian military in Ukraine, where Prigozhin was leading invading forces until Friday.
That day, Prigozhin published multiple videos condemning the Russian Defense Ministry for alleged doing little to support his forces and, at one point, accused the ministry of launching a direct attack that allegedly killed 2,000 Wagner mercenaries. He announced he would lead a “march for justice” into the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, home to an important military base organizing Ukrainian operations, and then into Moscow. Prigozhin emphasized that he was not seeking a “military coup” against Putin, though he did not clarify what else his march could be.
Prigozhin and his Wagner forces turned around late Saturday after, according to both sides, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko intervened. The Kremlin announced that it had agreed to drop charges against Prigozhin for “armed mutiny” if he fled to Belarus and stopped his invasion of Moscow.
China is one of Russia’s closest international allies, particularly on issues in which both are in conflict with America. The Chinese Communist Party has not enthusiastically supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, however, rejecting comparisons between sovereign Ukraine and sovereign Taiwan and maintaining communication with Kyiv. Ukraine is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly urged Chinese intervention to stop the invasion.
In September, following an in-person meeting with genocidal Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, Putin publicly conceded that China had “concerns” about the Ukrainian invasion but ensured Beijing he would properly address them.
In the immediate aftermath of the Wagner revolt this weekend, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement declaring the situation an “internal affair” and distancing China from the matter.
“As Russia’s friendly neighbor and comprehensive strategic partner of coordination for the new era, China supports Russia in maintaining national stability and achieving development and prosperity,” the Foreign Ministry asserted.
Asked about the situation on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning repeated the “internal affair” comment and added merely that Beijing and Moscow “have stayed in close and sound communication at various levels,” refusing to specify at what government level that communication has occurred.
The vote of confidence from the Foreign Ministry differed somewhat from the Chinese government’s news media arms, which generally approved of Putin’s competence but offered some concern that he may not have silenced the mutiny definitively.
Hu Xijin, a top commenter and former editor-in-chief for the state-run Global Times, dismissed Prigozhin in a commentary on Sunday as “immature and impulsive,” while praising Putin for successfully using “substantial political resources” to prevent bloodshed within Russia. He added, however, that the incident “will certainly impact the Kremlin’s authority” and it remained “uncertain” if Putin had successfully restored order.
“In the next stage, Putin will try to plug the hole that Prigozhin has poked in the Russian political order. It is unknown whether the Russian president will be able to do so,” Hu mused, “but it seems that Putin’s ability to deal with complex challenges should not be underestimated.”
In a separate analysis article on Sunday, the Global Times dismissed any suggestion that the Wagner uprising would negatively impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “wishful thinking” by the West, but nonetheless suggested that the affair should make Putin consider cutting short the operation in Ukraine.
“Still, the rebellion will have a negative impact on the Russian political situation and on the stability of the Russian military,” the Global Times asserted, citing Chinese “experts.” “How to eliminate those external impressions about a weakening leadership and enhance order could be a test for Putin in the future, experts said.”
“Such a dramatic event will make Putin and the Russian authorities more clearly aware that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine cannot be protracted, as the longer the war lasts, the more domestic problems and conflicts will accumulate,” one such expert predicted.
The Global Times quoted another “expert,” however, who applauded Putin for allegedly having “consolidated” his authority by ending the crisis so rapidly.
Another Chinese government outlet, China Daily, quoted two “experts,” a professor and a researcher, who appeared to disagree on how positive a development the aborted mutiny was for Putin. Yu Sui, the professor, called the mutiny “a very sobering incident” and “only the tip of the iceberg about the inherent contradictions in Russian society,” appearing to blame Putin himself for trusting a mercenary operation.
“The Wagner group’s coming into existence and growing into a strong force in Russia is something out of the ordinary,” Yu was quoted as saying, “It is akin to an old Chinese saying: to use a dog’s tail to pretend it is a mink’s when the latter is insufficient.”
“Maybe the incorporation of mercenaries into the Russian army was the best option for both the Russian government and the Wagner group, but it reminded of the Chinese saying about feeding a tiger and then inviting trouble,” he added.
“The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily,” the newspaper added as a disclaimer.
The aftermath of this weekend’s events in Russia remain uncertain. The Kremlin claimed it would drop charges of mutiny against Prigozhin and any Wagner mercenaries who joined him but, on Monday, anonymous sources within Russia’s law enforcement apparatus said the investigation and criminal charges against the Wagner warlord were ongoing. Prigozhin himself has not surfaced in Belarus, where he reportedly agreed to be exiled, but published an audio message on Monday through the social media application Telegram again condemning the Russian Defense Ministry.
“The aim of the march was to avoid destruction of Wagner and to hold to account the officials who through their unprofessional actions have committed a massive number of errors,” Prigozhin reportedly said, according to a BBC translation.
“We were on a march to demonstrate our protest, not to topple the government,” he reportedly emphasized, describing his relatively unimpeded march towards Moscow as a “master class” in how Russian forces should have been able to conquer Kyiv in 2022.
Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.
Read the full article here