harrington35_PAVEL BYRKINSPUTNIKAFP via Getty Images_putinxi Pavel Byrkin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Xi Jinping’s Russian Albatross

Notwithstanding the tangible benefits that China derives from trade, military partnerships, and other forms of cooperation with Russia, it cannot ignore the growing political turmoil inside the Kremlin. Xi Jinping's big bet on his Russian counterpart has become much riskier.

ATLANTA – Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin may have played his assigned role by reportedly meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on June 29. But notwithstanding the contrived show of unity, it will not have been lost on Chinese President Xi Jinping that Prigozhin’s highly public mutiny last month has profoundly weakened the Russian leadership. With Ukraine on a counteroffensive and Russia’s battlefield losses mounting, Xi’s “no limits” partnership with Putin is quickly morphing into a military liability for China.

Of course, China insists that the Wagner Group’s abortive putsch did not threaten its own cooperation with the Kremlin. Just hours after Prigozhin halted his march on Moscow, the Communist Party of China issued a statement dismissing the revolt as an internal matter. Inside China, news of Prigozhin’s uprising has been sparse, because censors have sanitized Chinese social media of any hint that Putin may have been taken down a peg. State media have duly reiterated the regime’s support for Russia, portrayed the Western reaction as overblown, and declared Putin’s position to be secure.

It is understandable that Xi would maintain this façade, given how often he has waxed rhapsodic about China’s ties with Russia and his personal relationship with Putin. The two men have met some 40 times over the past decade, repeatedly avowing a shared worldview. Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine shortly after Xi had announced their “no limits” partnership, and handshake photos during Xi’s visit to Moscow in March – three days after the International Criminal Court indicted Putin for war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest – conveyed that their bond remained strong.

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