Chinese officials have described an aborted rebellion by the Wagner group of mercenaries as Moscow’s “internal affairs”, while one state media mouthpiece dismissed the divisions in Russia as an “illusion” being exploited by the west.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko held talks in Beijing on Sunday after the most serious challenge to president Vladimir Putin’s grip on power since he came to power in 2000.
China’s foreign ministry initially said only that Rudenko had exchanged views with China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, on Sino-Russian relations as well as “international and regional issues of common concern”.
It later stated that China supports Russia in maintaining its national stability.
“As a friendly neighbour and comprehensive strategic partner in the new era, China supports Russia in maintaining national stability and achieving development and prosperity,” it said, without explicitly referring to Putin personally.
The Russian foreign ministry said China had declared its support for the leadership in Moscow.
“The Chinese side expressed support for the efforts of the leadership of the Russian Federation to stabilise the situation in the country in connection with the events of June 24,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
It was unclear when Rudenko arrived in Beijing, or whether his visit to China, a key ally of Russia, was in response to the apparent rebellion led by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The mutiny was aborted on Saturday after a deal was struck that spared Wagner’s mercenaries from facing criminal charges in return for Prigozhin pulling his fighters back to base and his moving to Belarus.
China had earlier made no comment on the rebellion that Putin said threatened Russia’s very existence.
The rebellion had been closely followed by Chinese media, which largely refrained from commentary ahead of any official remarks.
The Chinese state-controlled newspaper Global Times said on Saturday that hyping up the “mutiny” of Prigozhin and creating an “illusion” Russia has many internal contradictions and “the building is collapsing” amounted to the latest attack by western media and another attempt to undermine Russian social unity.
China and Russia, while not formal allies, have maintained close ties throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has refused to condemn. The United States and other western powers have urged Beijing not to supply Russia with arms that could be used in the Ukraine conflict.
On Sunday evening Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy held calls with the leaders of the US, Canada and Poland.
“We discussed the course of hostilities and the processes taking place in Russia. The world must put pressure on Russia until international order is restored,” Zelenskiy said after a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden.
“Yesterday’s events exposed the weakness of Putin’s regime,” the statement said.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report