The PRC responds to the rebellion, issues statements (generally) supportive of Putin
The People’s Daily’s Russian-section reappears after a two month hiatus
Reflections on the Wagner rebellion from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the People’s Daily (PD) were surprisingly different in tone. At the MFA’s press conferences, Mao Ning, the MFA spokesperson, did not include any reference to Putin in responses to questions and characterized the Wagner rebellion as “Russia’s internal affair.” She also stuck to repeating bromides, saying “China supports Russia in maintaining national stability and achieving development and prosperity.” More interestingly, Mao called on a Ukrainian reporter, who raised the risk of Putin’s forces initiating a catastrophe involving the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Mao responded by saying “China takes the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities seriously and supports the IAEA in playing a constructive role in this respect.”
The People’s Daily was much more forward leaning in its implicit support for Putin. Several articles began with “Russian President Vladimir Putin” [俄罗斯总统普京] , while the PD reprinted elements of Putin’s speech and comments by Lavrov blaming Western security services for the instability in Russia.
This is likely a case where the PD is more authoritative. The PRC has a preference for the written word over the spoken one, especially on an issue this sensitive. Still, Mao Ning’s failure to verbally commit to Putin or even mention his name shows the limitations of Beijing’s support for Russian dictator.
Beijing wants Putin to prevail and endure atop the power vertical, but it is also wary of overcommitting to him, should he be replaced.
It’s worth watching if Beijing’s rhetoric shifts in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Of particular interest will be if the phrase “all-weather” [全天候] resurfaces in authoritative state media. Beijing appears to use the phrase to signify bilateral relations will continue regardless of changes to domestic politics – or, in their formulation, “under the test of various conditions.”
What does “all-weather” signify? According to Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, speaking in Islamabad in 2015: “By all-weather, we mean that our two countries will always move ahead together rain or shine. This description of China-Pakistan partnership is a most appropriate one, as it aptly defines the all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation between China and Pakistan.” In 2015 the People’s Daily wrote: “In fact, ‘all-weather’ as an aviation term refers to ‘the general term for all kinds of weather including all complex weather conditions.’ The extended ‘all-weather friend’ describes the friendship that remains strong under the test of various conditions. It can be said that this is a high-level expression of friendly countries in China's diplomatic discourse.”
The PRC in 2021 may be seeking to insulate Sino-Russian relations from potential changes to Russian domestic politics. China has displayed little attachment to particular political leaders in its “all-weather” friendships with Zimbabwe and Pakistan: Beijing may have tacitly backed Mugabe’s defenestration in 2017 and its relationship with Rawalpindi has remained intact despite Pakistan’s tumultuous domestic politics. Beijing may be seeking to de-personalize bilateral ties in the event that Putin retires or is retired in the medium-term.”
Additionally, the Russia affairs-section of the PD is back after a more than two-month hiatus. The Russia affairs section typically goes dark around potentially sensitive events in Sino-Russian relations. Beijing was likely refraining from commenting and preserving flexibility ahead of the long-anticipated counteroffensive, however. While Beijing was likely concerned in April (and later) that a military collapse could threaten Putin’s standing, it did not seem to be eyeing Wagner as the potential vector.
What did Chinese security services know about the Wagner plot, and when? US intelligence reportedly uncovered that Yevgeny Prigozhin was preparing to take action against senior Russian defense officials, according to the NYT. Russia’s poor operational security and cyber defenses have repeatedly been exposed over the last 18 months. It would be a sign of gross incompetence if PRC security services, given their vast collection efforts, especially in signals intelligence (SIGINT), were unaware of the impending Prigozhin mutiny.
Why didn’t Russian security services detect the rebellion? The FSB, the Russian counterintelligence organization (that also operates in post-Soviet countries) failed once again. Prigozhin had issued threats against various figures in the Russian establishment for months – and even issued not-so-veiled criticisms of Putin. There doesn’t seem to be an indication that the FSB supported Prigozhin, so it appears they simply weren’t watching him carefully enough or were somehow unable to connect the dots.
The FSB’s failure to detect the Prigozhin mutiny suggests more trouble could be in the pipeline for Putin. Not only did the mutiny degrade his authority, but, rightly or wrongly, would-be coup plotters may have more confidence they can evade detection.
Rob Lee had some helpful comments on how Wagner was able to down so many Russian air force assets.
Table of Contents:
The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Agence France-Presse: Did President Xi Jinping speak to President Putin after the Wagner Group incident over the weekend? If there was a call, what was specifically discussed?
Mao Ning: The Wagner Group incident is 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, and we believe in Russia’s ability to do so. Our two countries have stayed in close and sound communication at various levels. As to your question about specific telephone conversations, I have nothing to share.
TASS: According to a report by The Wall Street Journal citing US government sources and US intelligence, China and Cuba are close to a deal to establish a new joint military training facility on the island, which could lead to the stationing of People’s Liberation Army troops for the long term, even as members of the US Congress and the US Secretary of State continue to express concerns about this. Does the foreign ministry have any response to this? Will this have any impact on the normal exchanges between China and the US?
Mao Ning: We have made clear China’s position on multiple occasions. We hope relevant parties will focus their time and efforts on doing things that are conducive to mutual trust and regional peace, stability and development.
Comment: Russian state media TASS, asking the tough and relevant questions.
Reuters: Does China worry if the mutiny has weakened Russian President Vladimir Putin? And does China worry that a weakened Putin would weaken China?
Mao Ning: This is Russia’s internal affair. China supports Russia in maintaining national stability and achieving development and prosperity.
Ukrainian News Agency: A question about Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. According to the Ukrainian side, the Russian military, which control Zaporizhzhya NPP, has placed explosive devices near four of the six power units and plans to detonate them to cause radioactive contamination and try to stop a Ukrainian counteroffensive. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the international community is not paying enough attention to the Russian threat at the Zaporizhzhya NPP. What will be your comment on this matter?
Mao Ning: I am not aware of the specifics you mentioned. China takes the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities seriously and supports the IAEA in playing a constructive role in this respect.
The safety and security of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is just one aspect of the Ukraine crisis and the solution to this issue ultimately lies in the prospects of a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis. All parties need to bear in mind the larger picture of peace and common security, and create enabling conditions for resuming talks and properly resolving relevant issues including the safety and security of the nuclear power plant. China will remain committed to promoting talks for peace and playing a constructive role in seeking a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.
Comment: This is important. Russia’s destruction or even damage of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant would deeply trouble Beijing (and very likely necessitate a Western response). It’s notable – and probably a signal to the Kremlin – that the PRC allowed this question from the Ukrainian news agency.
AFP: Can you confirm whether or not President Xi has spoken personally yet with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the recent developments in Russia involving the Wagner group?
Mao Ning: I have no information on that.
TASS: ARD reported that diplomats from China, Brazil, India, South Africa and some Western countries attended a confidential meeting in Copenhagen on June 24. Another report says that formal negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis may be held as early as July. Can the foreign ministry confirm that relevant parties plan to hold peace talks on the Ukraine issue in July? If it is true, will Russia be invited?
Mao Ning: China’s position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear, which centers on promoting talks for peace and a political settlement of the crisis. China stands ready to work with the rest of the world to continue to play a constructive role in deescalation.
RIA Novosti: According to the White House press corps, US President Joe Biden said China has "huge problems" but did not elaborate. What is China's comment?
Mao Ning: I am not aware of the specific statement you mentioned. Speaking of problems, I think any country, including the United States, will encounter problems in its development and progress. China has the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, follows the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and all the Chinese people are united and working hard. We have the ability and confidence to solve the problems on the way forward and achieve better and greater development. It is hoped that the United States can concentrate on solving its own domestic problems and play a constructive role in the stability and prosperity of the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised speech late on the 26th that cannibalism and social division eventually contributed to Russia's failure. "This is the result that Russia's enemies want. " [Comment: Note how the very first words describe Putin as Russia’s President]
Putin delivered a televised speech at 22:10 local time on the 26th. In his speech, he made arrangements for the whereabouts of personnel of the private military entity Wagner. These individuals can continue to serve the country by signing contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies; or they can return to family and friends. You can also go to Belarus if you want. "The promises I gave will be carried out," Putin said.
In his speech, Putin thanked the soldiers and commanders of the Wagner organization for making the "only correct decision" not to go to the point of killing each other. He pointed out that the organizers of the rebellion had betrayed the country and the people, "we knew in the past and now that the vast majority of fighters and commanders of the Wagner Group are also Russian patriots, loyal to their own people and country".
Putin said that Russia is now facing a huge external threat. The patriotism of citizens and the unity of the entire Russian society have played a decisive role today. The entire Russian society has adopted a firm and clear stand to support the constitutional order. Together we can overcome the most difficult test the nation has ever faced." The solidarity shown by all citizens of Russia shows that "any attempt to blackmail, create internal unrest is doomed to failure."
At the end of his speech, Putin thanked Belarusian President Lukashenko for his efforts and contributions to easing the situation.
The Wagner organization was suspected of inciting rebellion in the middle of the night on the 23rd, which caused tension in Russia. On the 24th, the Russian Federal Security Service announced that the Wagner organization was suspected of inciting armed rebellion, and its founder Prigozhen (普里戈任) was criminally charged. The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee announced on the same day that it will implement anti-terrorism operations in Moscow and other places. That night, Prigozhen accepted Lukashenko's suggestion that members of the Wagner organization stop marching in Russia and turn around and return to the field camp. Members of the organization and heavy equipment completely left the area where the headquarters of the Southern Russian Military Region is located late at night on the 24th. According to Russian media reports on the 25th, troops organized by Wagner have withdrawn from Lipetsk and Voronezh regions in southern Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in an interview with "Russia Today" TV station on the 26th that Russia is investigating whether Western intelligence agencies were involved in the Wagner incident.
Lavrov said that he was aware of how the Western media reported what happened in Russia. He pointed out that the US media had previously reported that the US intelligence agencies knew about the imminent rebellion a few days ago, but decided not to tell anyone. "This is obviously hoping that the rebellion will succeed."
Lavrov also said that the US ambassador to Russia, Lynn Tracy, has told the Russian side that this incident is Russia's internal affairs, and the US side has nothing to do with the rebellion. In this regard, Lavrov said that Russia is investigating whether Western intelligence agencies were involved in this incident.
In a speech at the White House on the 26th, US President Biden stated that the US and its allies were not involved in the recent Wagner incident in Russia, which the Russian government characterized as an "armed rebellion". Biden said he had coordinated with allied leaders on how to respond to the Wagner incident, while instructing the White House national security team to prepare for "a range of scenarios."
Biden also said that the United States is still unable to draw a definite conclusion on the direction of the domestic situation in Russia, and the final result of all the situations that have occurred in the past few days remains to be seen. No matter what happens in Russia, the United States and its allies will continue to support Ukraine.
According to a report on the Ukrainian President's website on the 26th, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky inspected the frontline positions of the Ukrainian Army on the same day and awarded honors to the Ukrainian Army officers and soldiers fighting on the front line.
Zelensky inspected the frontline positions of the Ukrainian army in the Donetsk region, the Berdyansk region and the westward direction of southern Ukraine. During the inspection, Zelensky listened to the reports of the Ukrainian army commander Sersky and the front-line Ukrainian army commander on the current battle situation and situation forecast.
After the inspection, Zelensky delivered a speech on the train that night, saying that the Ukrainian army has made progress in all directions.
Comment: This article was interesting not only because it occurs in the Russia-related section of the PD, but also because it may be a subtle criticism of Putin, who has stayed away from the frontlines and may have left for St. Petersburg amid the Wagner rebellion.
Xinhua News Agency, Moscow, June 26 (Reporter Huang He) The Defense Control Center of the Russian Ministry of Defense announced on the 26th that two Su-27 fighter jets flew over the Black Sea that day against an RC-135 reconnaissance plane and two "Typhoon" aircraft of the British Air Force. "The fighter jet implemented an escort.
The news said that Russian airspace monitoring equipment found three air targets approaching the Russian border over the Black Sea that day, and two Russian Su-27 fighter jets immediately took off to identify them. It was confirmed that the three targets were an RC-135 reconnaissance plane and two Typhoon fighter jets of the British Air Force. Russian fighter planes immediately accompanied it to prevent it from violating the Russian border.
The source said that after the foreign military aircraft diverted away from the Russian border, the Russian warplanes returned to the airport where they were stationed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree on the 26th, announcing that Russia will extend the countermeasures against the price cap of Russian oil and petroleum products until December 31, 2023. Relevant presidential decrees have been published on the Russian legal information website.
Comment: From the first paragraph. Characterizing Putin as Russia’s President seems to be the main objective of this article.
Joe Webster is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and editor of the China-Russia Report. This article represents his own personal opinion.
The China-Russia Report is an independent, nonpartisan newsletter covering political, economic, and security affairs within and between China and Russia. All articles, comments, op-eds, etc represent only the personal opinion of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the position(s) of The China-Russia Report.