April 20, 2024

Prigozhin’s rebellion undermined Putin’s standing among Russia’s elite, officials say

Members of Russia’s elite have questioned Russian president Vladimir Putin’s judgment following the short-lived armed uprising launched by his former caterer and mercenary group leader Wagner last month. Yevgeny Prigozhinsenior Western officials said at an annual security conference this week.


Where is Yevgeny Prigozhin? The whereabouts of chief Wagner are unknown

01:38

“For many Russians who were watching this, and who were used to this image of Putin as an arbiter of order, the question was, ‘Doesn’t the emperor have any clothes?’ Or at least, ‘Why is it taking so long for him to dress up?'” CIA Director William Burns said Thursday. “And for the minority, I think what he’s gotten at is some deeper questions … about Putin’s judgment, his relative detachment from events and his indecisiveness.”

Burns and other top Western officials spoke at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. Although the outcome of the attempted coup was not yet fully known, some of the officers, citing Putin’s known revenge, were very hopeful about Prigozhin’s fate.

“My experience is, Putin is the last Apostle in terms of paying back. So, I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes additional retribution for this,” Burns, former ambassador to Russia, said Thursday. “If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t set my food taste on fire,” he said, echoing similar statements made by President Biden in the past.

“If I were Mr. Prigozhin, I would be very worried,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the conference on Friday. “NATO has an open door policy; Russia has an open windows policy, and it needs to be very focused on that.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan later said that the aftermath of the attack was still “confused and uncertain,” but that Prigozhin’s actions were an expression of frustration with the course of the war in Ukraine.

“If Putin had succeeded in Ukraine, you wouldn’t have seen Prigozhin running pell-mell down the track toward Moscow,” Sullivan said.

Burns said Prigozhin “flipped around” between Belarus and Russia in the weeks after his 24-hour attack, when he and a cohort of Wagner troops claimed to have captured a military headquarters in Rostov before coming within 125 miles of Moscow.

After apparent and yet ambiguous deal brokered by Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko, Prigozhin announced that he and his troops would turn back. Last week the Kremlin revealed that Putin later met with commanders Prigozhin and Wagner and demanded a pledge of loyalty from them.

“[W]what we are seeing is that the first cracks are appearing on the Russian side rather than on our side,” British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said at the conference on Wednesday.

Still, officials said Putin still appears unmoved to consider any peace talks, even as Ukrainian forces press ahead with a counteroffensive.

“Unfortunately, I see zero evidence that Russia is interested” in engaging in talks, Blinken said. “If President Putin changes his mind on this, maybe there will be an opening.”

“Right now, we don’t see it,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *