June 17, 2024

Prigozhin’s Rebellion in Russia China is worried, says Kurt Campbell

  • A brief failed coup by Russian mercenaries in June cast doubt on Putin’s future.
  • It also worried observers in China, which has its own history with “warlordism,” the US official said.
  • Experts say China may ease its relations with Russia because of Putin’s apparent vulnerability.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion last month gained momentum soon after it began, but left Vladimir Putin’s grip on power in doubt.

Putin and the military leaders targeted by Prigozhin are still in place, but the incident triggered unpleasant memories in China, Moscow’s biggest remaining friend, according to Kurt Campbell, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator of Indo-Pacific Affairs on the White House National Security Council.

“One of the main reasons they want to have a dialogue is to find out what we think about Russia. They were unnerved by what happened two weekends ago in Moscow,” said Campbell in interview with The Wire China published on July 16, after several senior US officials visited China.

China is officially neutral regarding the war in Ukraine but has supported Russia in practice with expanded trade, frequent official visits, and ongoing military exercises. China present peace plan in April — shortly after President Xi Jinping visited Moscow — that was widely seen dull and self-absorbed.

Fighters of Wagner's private mercenary group are deployed near a local circus in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023.

Wagner Group soldiers in Rostov-on-Don during their brief uprising on June 24.


Yes Chinese criticism however, Russia’s handling of the war and the sight of mercenaries marching on Moscow loomed large in Beijing, Campbell said.

“I don’t need to tell you about the complex Chinese psychology about warlords. They have their own experiences of a warlord who got close to an emperor and basically toppled an existing order in China for 100 years. In the Chinese power councils, this is very unnerving,” said Campbell, referring to the Lushan Rebellion, led by a general in 755.

Campbell said US officials have tried to convey to China that Russia’s “horribly implemented war” is causing challenges such as global inflation and increased refugee flows. “China’s most important role, as Russia’s only real partner and friend left, is to encourage them to come to the realization that time is not on their side,” Campbell said.

“We have tried to communicate directly with China, that they should quietly use their good offices to get Russia to reassess and withdraw and seek a peaceful solution,” but the US has “substantial distrust” in dealing with China.

China and Russia, post-Putin

Russia Vladimir Putin troops swords

Putin spoke to Russian security personnel at the Kremlin on June 27.


China’s official response to Prigozhin’s rebellion was muted. Ministry of Foreign Affairs terse statement on June 25 he called “Russia’s internal business” and said China “supports Russia to maintain national stability,” and the Chinese Communist Party tabloid Global Times accused Western media trying to use the uprising to undermine Sino-Russian relations.

But China Daily, a newspaper owned by the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, quoted two experts express concern: “The conflict between mercenaries and the Russian army is only the tip of the iceberg about the fundamental contradictions in Russian society,” said Yu Sui, a professor at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies.

That comment “could be a subtle way for Beijing to signal to Moscow that it needs to put its house in order” and to remind the world that they are not in the public eye on every issue, according to Joseph Torigian, an expert on China and Russia at American University. said The Conversation in June.

The Chinese government probably still sees Putin as their preferred partner, Torigian said. Putin and Xi have been the driving force behind the strengthening of Sino-Russian relations over the past 15 years. Both want to review the US-led international order, which they see as trying to keep their countries.

Xi still needs Putin, too, because Russia is the only country that can sensibly help China “dilute the role of human rights and democratic governance in the international system,” writes Ryan Haas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in The New York Times this month.

Russia Vladimir Putin China Xi Jinping

Putin and Xi Jinping leave a reception at the Kremlin on March 21.

PAVEL Byrkin/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing needs good relations with Moscow to keep its long border stable and to gain access to Russian food and energy exports and military expertise, but Prigozhin’s resignation could lead Xi to “rebalance his foreign policy to account for Mr. Putin’s vulnerabilities,” said Haas, who served as China director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

“Both sides can be expected to maintain the appearance of business as usual. But Mr. Xi has little to gain by duplicating Mr. Putin, whose troubles are not conducive to China’s grand plans,” Haas wrote.

Putin’s vulnerabilities it may invite future challengesother experts have said, and its fall would likely lead to instability in Russia – a concern for China and the West – and leaders with tougher and potentially different views on China, according to Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs and the author of “Putin’s Wars”, which details how Putin rebuilt Russia’s military.

China is a “fault issue within the Russian elite,” and some, including members of the intelligence services, are becoming more wary of their powerful neighbor, Galeotti told Insider in April.

“For the next generation of politicians who are waiting in the wings – the 50-something, the early-60-something-year-olds – they have a different attitude” from Putin and those around him, a group in the late 60s and early 70s, Galeotti said. “They are much more worried about China. They are much more worried about the risks of falling into China’s orbit, and I think that will be one of the key political debates in the post-Putin era, whenever that happens.”

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