Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address, on June 24, 2023, as Wagner fighters stage rebellion.
Gavriil Grigorov | AFP | Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said much remains unknown about the chaos that unfolded in Russia on Saturday, but that the internal clash exposed “cracks” in the nation that “weren’t there before.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a violent, attempted insurrection Saturday by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime Putin ally who led private mercenary fighters called the Wagner Group. But less than 24 hours after Wagner mercenaries seemingly took control of the strategic southern city of Rostov and began an armed convoy march towards Moscow, Prigozhin abruptly announced the armed rebellion was over.
In exchange for turning back, the criminal case against Prigozhin was dropped, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters, according to the state-controlled outlet TASS. Prigozhin himself “will go to Belarus,” Peskov said, describing what appeared to be a sort of official exile.
Prigozhin has played a central role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so his departure could ultimately change the course of the war. And though his rebellion was short-lived, it marked the most serious challenge to Putin’s regime in decades.
“This is just an added chapter to a very, very bad book that Putin has written for Russia,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
Blinken said Prigozhin has been responsible for “horrible brutality” in Ukraine, and that in many ways, Prigozhin is Putin’s direct creation. He said it is too soon to tell exactly what the rift between the two men will mean for Russia, but that the U.S. remains “intensely focused” on Ukraine.
Prigozhin’s direct challenge of Putin’s authority is “extraordinary,” Blinken added, as Prigozhin has managed to raise questions about the motivations for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the first place.
He said the war has ultimately been “a devastating, strategic failure” for Putin.
“We’ve seen this aggression against Ukraine become a strategic failure across the board,” he said. “Russia is weaker economically, militarily, its standing around the world has plummeted.”
Blinken expects the U.S. will learn more specifics about the deal between Putin and Prigozhin, as well as what will become of the Wagner Group, in the coming weeks and months.