The Turmoil In Russia And What It Means For China – Analysis


By He Jun

Amidst the ongoing stalemate in the Ukrainian war, a major internal conflict has erupted within Russia with the mutiny of the mercenary Wagner Group.

On June 23, Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, took to social media to accuse the Russian Ministry of Defense of launching an attack on Wagner’s camp, resulting in significant losses for Wagner personnel. However, the Russian Ministry of Defense swiftly dismissed these allegations as baseless. Prigozhin stated that Wagner armed personnel had crossed into Russia from Ukraine and were prepared to confront the Russian military. He warned that his forces would “destroy everything that gets in our way”. However, he also claimed that his criticism and actions against the Russian military were a just cause rather than a coup. On June 24, Wagner troops entered Russia’s Rostov Oblast and engaged in combat with the Russian military, even shooting down a Russian helicopter. According to the information tracked by ANBOUND’s research team, on the same day, a convoy of Wagner mercenaries appeared at Lipetsk Oblast, just 400 kilometers away from Moscow.

After the outbreak of the incident, General Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, released a video urgently appealing to Wagner to cease the “rebellion” and peacefully resolve the issue “before it is too late”, in obedience to the will of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In response to it, the Russian authorities took immediate action. The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation announced the initiation of criminal proceedings against Prigozhin for inciting rebellion. According to TASS news agency on June 24, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that many Wagner members “have already realized their mistake and asked for assistance in their return to places of permanent deployment”. The Russian military also stated that they would ensure the safety of Wagner armed personnel who were not involved in the rebellion. Regarding the rebellion, Russian President Putin delivered a televised address to the nation on June 24. He mentioned that Russian government will take “decisive actions”.

From the current situation, whether Prigozhin’s mutiny is successful or not has become less relevant. This event is likely to trigger a chain reaction within the Russian military, significantly denting morale and causing the entire Russian population to become aware of the division within their country and military forces. Over a year ago, Russia launched the war in Ukraine with the intention of establishing a strategic security buffer for itself under pressure from NATO. However, it has now led to significant internal divisions in Russia and may even ignite a civil war. The “rebellion” of the Wagner Group could potentially become a turning point in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, greatly increasing the likelihood of Russia’s failure in the war and setting the stage for a tragic scenario in Russia. This is only the beginning. One notable question is whether, as the situation deteriorates, the Wagner Group will attempt to seize some of Russia’s nuclear weapons to blackmail the Russian government.

The developments in Russia have drawn significant international attention. Multiple NATO countries are closely observing the unfolding events and conducting assessments. This incident undoubtedly presents an opportunity for Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has emphasized their close monitoring of the conflict between the Russian military and the Wagner Group. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted that “everything is just beginning in Russia”. Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground force, remarked that Ukrainian forces are advancing towards Bakhmut and successfully neutralizing Russian military equipment in Luhansk. CNN reported that U.S. government sources revealed the close monitoring of the Russian situation by the U.S. Insiders familiar with the Biden administration’s perspective mentioned that U.S. and Western officials are exercising caution when commenting on the unfolding events in Russia. Furthermore, it was disclosed that U.S. government officials convened an emergency meeting on the evening of June 23 to assess the situation. The rapid sequence of events caught both U.S. and European officials off guard. On the morning of June 24, the UK Ministry of Defense issued a statement declaring that the dispute between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense has escalated into a military confrontation, constituting the ” greatest challenge of recent times” for Russia. The Élysée Palace in France stated that President Emmanuel Macron is closely monitoring the evolving developments in Russia. Similarly, the German government expressed its close attention to the unfolding events in Russia. Polish President Andrzej Duda held meetings with the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and relevant allies on June 24 to address the situation in Russia.

The potential impact of this event on China is significant and should not be underestimated. The Chinese public’s perception of the Ukraine conflict is notably influenced by the dynamics between China and the U.S. Initially, there was a belief among the general Chinese public that as a nuclear-armed nation, Russia could withstand the collective pressure exerted by NATO countries despite its internal challenges. However, the sudden internal turmoil in Russia may disrupt the anticipated balance. If Russia experiences failure or internal division in the conflict, it could lead to structural changes in the current international geopolitical landscape dominated by the Ukraine conflict (Russia vs. NATO + the West) and the U.S.-China competition (China vs. the U.S. + some allies). A reduction in pressure on the West from Russia could potentially result in an increase in pressure on China from the U.S. At the onset of the Ukraine conflict, ANBOUND has already emphasized the importance for China to uphold its independent strategic interests, avoid binding itself with Russia, and prioritize a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. This is precisely the path chosen by China. Overall, maintaining a rational perspective in the face of this complex situation is of utmost importance for China.

Final analysis conclusion:

The internal turmoil in Russia has become a reality and may have significant implications for the future direction of the Ukraine conflict and even the future national landscape of Russia. In the global geopolitical competition where no one can remain unaffected, China needs to pay close attention to the changes and impacts of these events. Faced with a complex international situation, it is necessary for China to adhere to the path of peace, uphold its independent national strategic interests, and safeguard the well-being of its people.

He Jun is a researcher for ANBOUND


Anbound Consulting (Anbound) is an independent Think Tank with the headquarter based in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound specializes in public policy research, and enjoys a professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions and risk analysis. Anbound's research findings are widely recognized and create a deep interest within public media, academics and experts who are also providing consulting service to the State Council of China.

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