US says the attempted Wagner mutiny in Russia shows “real cracks” in President Vladimir Putin’s authority.
The abrupt agreement brokered by Belarus to end the crisis has hardly given American officials confidence that the situation is entirely defused.
If anything, it could reinforce existing doubts inside Russia about Putin’s leadership, according to US officials.
The attempted armed mutiny in Russia shows “real cracks” in President Vladimir Putin’s authority, America’s top diplomat Antony Blinken has said.
He told US media Saturday’s rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner fighters was a “direct challenge” to Mr. Putin, forcing him into an amnesty agreement.
Antony Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday: “It’s too soon to tell exactly where this is going to go. And I suspect that this is a moving picture, and we haven’t seen the last act yet.”
“But we can say this: First of all, what we’ve seen is extraordinary. And I think you’ve seen cracks emerge that weren’t there before,” he added.
The US diplomat added that he did not want to “speculate” on where this all could lead Russia and President Putin personally.
The deal halted Wagner’s march on Moscow. The mercenaries had earlier seized two major Russian cities.
Mr. Putin accused the group of treason, but all charges were later dropped.
Under the deal, Wagner fighters must return to their field bases and Prigozhin moves to Belarus, whose leader Alexander Lukashenko was involved in the negotiations.
“There are certainly more questions than we have answers to, at least right now. I think we’ll get to the bottom of some of these but it will take months if not years,” said Steve Hall, a former CIA chief of Russia Operations.
“We know for sure now that Vladimir Putin personally, and as the leader of Russia and Russia writ large, is in a much weaker position than they were 36 hours ago,” Hall said. “This is, of course, a great benefit to the Ukrainians. But I think Putin has to be diminished. There’s no way he can be looked at again as a monolithic leader who controls everything inside of Russia. That’s simply not the case anymore and it’s obvious to everybody in the world.”
What White House officials had been watching closely was the internal power struggle between the Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense.
In January, the White House cited downgraded intelligence showing Wagner was becoming a “rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian militaries.”
Officials suggested at the time that Prigozhin was working to advance his own interests in Ukraine instead of the broader Russian objectives.
Meanwhile, President Putin has not been seen in public since his nationwide TV address on Saturday morning to condemn the mutiny.
In addition, Russia has not publicly commented on Mr Blinken’s remarks.
The BBC’s Russia editor in Moscow Steve Rosenberg says President Putin does not emerge from Saturday’s events looking particularly strong.
He says the Wagner group had been able to seize control of military facilities in a major Russian city with apparent ease, then push north towards Moscow.