China muted in response to chaotic developments in Russia

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China’s reaction was muted through the weekend to the internal crisis facing Russian President Vladimir Putin, following a brief rebellion by Wagner Group mercenaries who brought an unprecedented threat to the Russian leader’s longtime grip on power.

The communist party-ruled government in Beijing, which has drawn increasingly close to Mr. Putin amid his nearly 16-month invasion of Ukraine, has not publicly commented on the short-lived but intense insurrection that could have long-term consequences for the war and the Russian leader’s two-decade hold on power.

While Western media outlets have devoted feverish coverage of the Russias developments since Friday, the English-language versions of China Daily and People’s Daily — two of the Chinese Communist Party’s primary news operations — carried almost no mention of the developments on Saturday and Sunday.

The People’s Daily Online linked to an article by Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news wire, which summarized the friction between Mr. Putin and Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who said Saturday that he had called off the group’s rebellion to “avoid “shedding Russian blood.”

After initially launching an armed rebellion Friday that was aimed at ousting Russia’s defense minister, Mr. Prigozhin and his fighters had appeared to seize control of the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don that oversee fighting in Ukraine.

They then advanced early Saturday towards Moscow largely unhindered. Russian media reported that Wagner fighters had downed several helicopters and a military communications plane.

The mercenaries were then halted Saturday when a deal was suddenly announced between Mr. Putin and Mr. Prigozhin, under which the Wagner Group chief would leave Russia and go to neighboring Belarus — a country that has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesman said charges against Mr. Prigozhin for mounting the armed rebellion would be dropped, and Mr. Prigozhin subsequently ordered his troops back to their field camps.

National security sources in Washington said U.S. officials have closely monitored the developments in Russia, a nuclear armed power, while also examining the reaction from China, which has rhetorically supported Russia’s Ukraine invasion in the face of widespread condemnation from the United States and NATO.

While U.S. media coverage of the Russia developments has been intense, the Biden administration has also been cautious in its public statements through the weekend.

The White House said in a statement that President Biden had discussed the developments with the leaders of Germany, France and the United Kingdom on Saturday. Mr. Biden has not otherwise spoken publicly on the developments.

Recent months have seen Chinese President Xi Jinping embrace closer relations with Moscow.

Although China has attempted to portray itself as a neutral stakeholder toward the Ukraine war, Beijing has dramatically increased its economic coordination with Russia, including through the purchase of Russian oil and gas sanctioned by Washington and the European Union.

American officials say China and Russia have also escalated coordination in efforts to project anti-U.S. messaging to nations around the world.

Earlier this year, U.S. intelligence suggested that Beijing was considering providing arms to the Russian military to support its operations in Ukraine, but no evidence has since emerged publicly that China is providing such support.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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