Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a video speech, June 24, 2023, as Wagner fighters stage a rebellion.
Gavril Grigorov | AFP | fake images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said much was still unknown about the chaos that broke out in Russia on Saturday, but that the internal clash exposed “cracks” in the nation that “were not there before.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a violent attempted insurrection on Saturday by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former Putin ally who led private mercenary fighters called the Wagner Group. But less than 24 hours after Wagner’s mercenaries apparently seized control of the strategic southern city of Rostov and began an armed convoy march toward Moscow, Prigozhin abruptly announced that the armed rebellion was over.
In exchange for backing down, the criminal case against Prigozhin was withdrawn, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian journalists, according to state-controlled outlet TASS. Prigozhin himself “will go to Belarus,” Peskov said, describing what appeared to be some kind of official exile.
Prigozhin has played a central role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so his departure could 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 one more chapter to a very, very bad book that Putin has written for Russia,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Blinken said that Prigozhin has been responsible for “horrible brutality” in Ukraine and that, in many ways, Prigozhin is a direct creation of Putin. He said it was too early to say exactly what the break between the two men will mean for Russia, but that the United States remains “intensely focused” on Ukraine.
Prigozhin’s direct challenge to Putin’s authority is “extraordinary,” Blinken added, since Prigozhin 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 have seen that this aggression against Ukraine turned into a strategic failure in all areas,” he said. “Russia is weaker economically, militarily, her position in the whole world has collapsed.”
Blinken expects the US to learn more details about the Putin-Prigozhin deal, as well as what will happen to the Wagner Group, in the coming weeks and months.