Russia’s crisis involving a mercenary group’s aborted revolt against the Kremlin exposed “real cracks” in President Vladimir Putin’s authority, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.
The uprising by the private Wagner group and its mutinous leader Yevgeny Prigozhin over the weekend marked “a direct challenge to Putin’s authority,” Blinken told CBS News talk show “Face the Nation.”
“So this raises profound questions, it shows real cracks,” the top American diplomat said.
The remarks were the first public declarations about the developments in Russia by the United States, which over the past 24 hours had been intensively engaged in consultations with European allies on the revolt.
Blinken, making the rounds on multiple Sunday talk shows, said it was “too early” to speculate on the impact of the crisis, either on the Kremlin or on the war in Ukraine.
But he deemed it an “extraordinary” series of events, in which a close Putin ally — who sent his private mercenaries into Ukraine to undertake some of the most brutal fighting of the war there — rapidly turned against Russia’s leader and threatened the very center of power in the Kremlin.
While 16 months ago Russian forces were on Kiev’s “doorstep” threatening to take over all of Ukraine, “now over this weekend, they’ve had to defend Moscow, Russia’s capital, against mercenaries of Putin’s own making,” Blinken also told ABC News show “This Week.”
“Prigozhin himself, in this entire incident, has raised profound questions about the very premises of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in the first place, saying that Ukraine or NATO did not pose a threat to Russia, which is part of Putin’s narrative.”
Putin in a fiery speech Saturday accused Prigozhin of treason and vowed to punish the perpetrators, but then accepted an amnesty deal in which the Wagner chief would avoid prosecution and leave for neighboring Belarus.
Blinken said that Moscow being “distracted” over the revolt creates “an additional advantage” for Ukraine in the midst of its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
But “we can’t speculate or know exactly where that’s going to go,” he said of the Wagner crisis.