The Secretary General of NATO told reporters that the Wagner Group’s rebellion late last week demonstrated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power was slipping. The remarks come as US officials say the threat presented by Yevgeny Prigozhin may be ongoing.
Jens Stoltenberg, the civilian head of the North Atlantic alliance, made the comments while attending a press conference in Lithuania. “I think what we’re seeing in Russia over the last days demonstrates the fragility of the [Russian] regime, and, of course, it is a demonstration of weakness,” he said. “We see the weakness of the Russian regime and it also demonstrates how difficult and dangerous it is for President Putin.”
On Friday, Prigozhin, leader of the private fighting group PMC Wagner, announced that he had turned against the Russian military command and was ordering his forces to march toward Moscow. The insurrection was ended within 24 hours as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered an agreement that led to Prigozhin’s exile in Minsk. The Kremlin has declared any threats from Wagner mercenaries have been resolved.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News on Sunday that the insurrection showed “real cracks” in Putin’s hold on power. “It was a direct challenge to Putin’s authority. So this raises profound questions. 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,” he said.
UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly echoed his American counterpart saying the brief uprising was an “unprecedented challenge to President Putin’s authority.” Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron remarked the mutiny illustrates “the divisions that exist within the Russian camp, and the fragility of both its military and its auxiliary forces.”
Blinken suggested the threat to Putin may not be over. “I think we’re in the midst of a moving picture. We haven’t seen the last act. We’re watching it very closely and carefully,” he said. While Blinken did not offer any evidence for the assertion, several media outlets claim that the US knew Prigozhin planned to stage an insurrection weeks before it took place.
Liz Truss, former UK Prime Minister and current Member of Parliament, called for NATO to assemble a plan in case Prigozhin overthrows Putin. “We, and our allies – including the Ukrainians, including the Poles, including the Baltic states – need to make sure that we have a plan in the case of the implosion of Russia,” she said in the House of Commons.
Stoltenberg argued the North Atlantic alliance should send more weapons to Ukraine in response to the Prigozhin rebellion. “It also demonstrates that it is hard to predict exactly what will now happen in the next days and weeks, but we should not make the mistakes that we are underestimating the Russians,” he said. “So, we need to continue to provide support to Ukraine. That’s exactly what NATO and NATO allies are doing with military support but also support for the long term.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Western foreknowledge of the mutiny shows it was hoping it would succeed. “In particular, CNN, if I remember correctly, reported that the US intelligence services knew for several days that a mutiny was in the works, but decided not to disclose that information to anyone, apparently in the hope that the mutiny would succeed,” he explained.
Lavrov stated Russia was already investigating if there was any Western involvement in the plot. On Monday, President Joe Biden issued a firm denial, saying, “We made it clear — the West had nothing to do with this.”