Although the Wagner mercenary forces led by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin have halted their assault on Moscow, the threat has revealed the fragility of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“What we’ve seen is Russia having to defend Moscow, it’s capital, against mercenaries of its own making,” Blinken said Sunday during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. “So, in and of itself, that’s extraordinary. And in so doing, we’ve also seen rise to the surface profound questions about the very premises for this Russian aggression against Ukraine that Prigozhin surfaced very publicly, as well as a direct challenge to Putin’s authority.”
Prigozhin, whose Wagner mercenaries have been fighting for Russia in its assault on Ukraine, redirected the forces to attack Russian cities on Friday, claiming that Russian troops were targeting Wagner troops with missile strikes. Prigozhin’s forces gained control over Rostov-on-Don near the Ukraine border before heading for Moscow. But the revolt came to an end with a deal, brokered by Belarus, between Putin and Prigozhin. Russia agreed to drop criminal charges against Prigozhin if he would depart Russia for Belarus.
Putin defending his own country against mercenary forces is a stark contrast to more than a year ago when “Russian forces were on the doorstep of Kyiv in Ukraine, believing they would take the capital in a matter of days and erase the country from the map as an independent country,” Blinken said.
“What we’ve seen is Russia having to defend Moscow, its capital, against mercenaries of his own making,” the secretary continued. “So in and of itself, that’s extraordinary. And in so doing, we’ve also seen rise to the surface profound questions about the very premises for this Russian aggression against Ukraine, that Prigozhin surfaced very publicly, as well as a direct challenge to Putin’s authority. So, I think we’ve seen more cracks emerge in the Russian façade. It is too soon to tell exactly where they go and when they get there. But certainly, we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead.”
In a separate interview on CNN, Blinken emphasized the uncertainty of the situation unfolding in Russia, pointing out that it remains to be seen how the Russian military brass will react to this challenge to Putin’s authority. “I suspect that this is a moving picture and we haven’t seen the last act yet,” Blinken said.
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