US assesses implications of Wagner revolt attempt
This weekend’s aborted uprising by Russian military contractor PMC Wagner Group may portend greater instability for President Vladimir Putin’s government and will create “openings” for Ukraine to take back territory seized by Moscow’s forces, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has claimed.
“It was a direct challenge to Putin’s authority, so this raises profound questions,” Blinken said on Sunday in a CBS News interview. “It shows real cracks. We can’t speculate or know exactly where that’s gonna go. We do know that Putin has a lot more to answer for in the weeks and months ahead.”
Blinken’s comments mark the most extensive reaction by President Joe Biden’s administration since Wagner rebelled on Friday against Russia’s military leadership. The private military company’s founder, Evgeny Prigozhin, agreed to end the uprising on Saturday, halting his group’s advance toward Moscow under a deal with the Kremlin that requires him to leave the country and spares him from prosecution.
“We haven’t seen the last act,” Blinken told CBS host Margaret Brennan. “We’re watching it very closely and carefully, but just step back for a second and put this in context. Sixteen months ago, Russian forces were on the doorstep of Kiev in Ukraine, thinking they’d take the city in a matter of days, thinking they would erase Ukraine from the map as an independent country. Now over this weekend, they’ve had to defend Moscow, Russia’s capital, against mercenaries of Putin’s own making.”
Blinken speculated that the Wagner incident will help Kiev gain ground in its counteroffensive against Russian forces in the Donbass region. “To the extent that it presents a real distraction for Putin and for Russian authorities – that they have to look at, sort of mind their rear, even as they’re trying to deal with the counteroffensive and Ukraine – I think that creates even greater openings for the Ukrainians to do well on the ground.”
Kiev’s forces sustained heavy casualties as they repeatedly attacked Moscow’s defensive lines in the past 24 hours, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday. Ukraine lost more than 800 troops, as well as more than a dozen armored vehicles and other weaponry.
Foreign intelligence services likely played a role in the failed Wagner coup attempt, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday. He declined to name the countries that he believed to be involved. Putin, who called the short-lived uprising a “knife in the back” of Russia and its people, said such strife might be used by the country’s enemies “to subvert us from within.”
Blinken said Biden’s administration always prepares for “every contingency in terms of what happens in Russia.” He added, “Of course, when we’re dealing with a major power, and especially a major power that has nuclear weapons, that’s something that’s of concern, something we’re very focused on. We haven’t seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.”
What happens next in Russia amid “profound internal divisions” is for the Russian people to decide, Blinken said. “It’s too soon to say with any certainty what the final chapter in this particular book is going to be, the rising storm of Prigozhin . . . . This creates more cracks in the Russian facade.”