While the armed rebellion launched by Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, came as a surprise for most of the world over the weekend, U.S. intelligence officials knew of the plot and briefed Congress on the situation days ahead of Saturday’s mutiny after intelligence officials reportedly observed Wagner fighters mustering forces and gathering weapons.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that “U.S. spy agencies had indication days earlier that Mr. Prigozhin was planning something and worked to refine that material into a finished assessment, officials said.”
“The information shows that the United States was aware of impending events in Russia, similar to how intelligence agencies had warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine,” the report added.
However, unlike the days leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. intelligence officials remained silent, most likely in the hope that the mutiny would destabilize the Russian state and negatively affect Russian military operations in Ukraine. Thus far, there appears to be little evidence that the short-lived Wagner rebellion led to any substantial gains for Ukrainian forces along the frontlines.
The Times continued:
U.S officials felt that if they said anything, Mr. Putin could acuse them of orchestrating a coup. And they clearly had little interest in helping Mr. Putin avoid a major, embarrasing fracturing of his support.
While it is not clear exactly when the United States first learned of the plot, intelligence officials conducted briefings on Wednesday with administration and defense officials. On Thursday, as additional confirmation of the plot came in, intelligence officials informed a narrow group of congressional leaders, according to officials familiar with the briefings who spoke on condition of anonymity becasue they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Although Prigozhin has for several months now made his dislike for head general Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu very well known, Washington’s intelligence of the events was very specific and appears in hindsight to have accurately predicted the rebellion only a few days before it began.
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The Kremlin has not directly accused the U.S. or NATO of Saturday’s events, however, it has indirectly suggested that the West could exploit the situation, according to ZeroHedge.
On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, “The attempted armed mutiny in our country has aroused strong disapproval in Russian society, which firmly supports President Vladimir Putin.”
“We warn the Western countries against the slightest attempts to use the internal situation in Russia for achieving their Russophobic aims. Such attempts are futile and evoke no support either in Russia or among soberly-minded political forces abroad,” the statement added.
However on Sunday during an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Wagner rebellion “shows real cracks” within Russia.
“Prigozhin himself, in this entire incident, has raised profound questions about the very premises for Russian aggression against Ukraine in the first place, saying that Ukraine or NATO did not pose a threat to Russia, which is part of Putin’s narrative. And it was a direct challenge to Putin’s authority. So this raises profound questions. It shows real cracks,” Blinken said.
Despite Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko negotiating an end to the Wagner mutiny, a heightened military presence has remained in major cities in southern Russia throughout the weekend and Moscow’s Red Square was also closed to the public throughout Sunday.
Meanwhile, many observers have begun speculating how Putin will respond to the ‘betrayal’ of Prigozhin and his mercenary fighters. During public remarks Saturday as the rebellion was unfolding, Putin called Wagner’s actions, “a knife in the back of our people.”
As Prigozhin heads to ‘exile’ in Belarus as part of the ceasefire agreement, speculation has begun to surface regarding the unexpected and confusing situation.
Meanwhile, it is clear that Putin took the situation very seriously and has been rattled by the uprising. A statement in TASS said, “Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he keeps the situation on the special operation under control around the clock,” before adding that Putin “has been staying up quite late lately.”
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