HONG KONG — China has expressed support for Russia’s efforts to maintain national stability in the wake of a failed uprising by mercenaries that posed a brief but unprecedented challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko was in Beijing on Sunday, a day after Yevgeny Prigozhin called off an advance on Moscow by his Wagner mercenary group forces and agreed to leave for Belarus in exchange for charges being dropped.
“The Chinese side expressed support for the efforts of the leadership of the Russian Federation to stabilize the situation in the country in connection with the events of June 24, and reaffirmed its interest in strengthening the unity and further prosperity of Russia,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement afterward.
Rudenko and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang discussed China-Russia relations and “international and regional issues of common concern,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on its website.
Rudenko's trip had not been previously announced, according to The Associated Press, and it was not clear when he had arrived in Beijing or whether his trip was related to the uprising.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry later described the rebellion as “Russia’s internal affair.”
“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,” an unnamed spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday.
The statement did not mention Putin or Prigozhin.
Russia and China are not formal allies, but Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who refer to each other as “dear friends,” declared a “no limits” partnership at a meeting in Beijing weeks before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or even describe them as an invasion, and has repeated Russian talking points defending the war. But it has also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and called for peace talks, presenting its own 12-point plan earlier this year and sending a representative to Ukraine and Russia last month in an effort to mediate.
In March, three U.S. officials said that new intelligence suggested that China was considering sending artillery and ammunition to Russia. China has vowed it won’t sell weapons to either side in the war in Ukraine — a point reiterated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his trip to Beijing last week.
Ukraine and its allies such as the United States have criticized Beijing’s peace plan as too favorable to Russia and say there can be no negotiations until Putin withdraws his troops.
In an emergency address to the nation on Saturday amid the Wagner crisis, Putin said his government would “protect our people and state from any threats, including internal betrayal.” But U.S. military analysts say the Russian president was weakened by the revolt and his rule could still be in jeopardy as he seeks to retain support at home and abroad.
Putin “is in real trouble,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News analyst, and that could influence policy in China and other countries that have tried to portray themselves as neutral in the Ukraine conflict.
“The Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, the Middle East are trying to reassess how likely is Putin to survive much longer,” he said.
Others say Putin opponents should be careful what they wish for, arguing that the prospect of defeat could push the Russian president to use tactical nuclear weapons, a threat that President Joe Biden and others say is “real.”
“After the Wagner incident, the war will be bloodier and Putin will be more determined,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the International Affairs Research Center at Renmin University of China in Beijing.
If the Russian government were to fall apart, “it will only make the situation more dangerous,” he said.