The Biden administration has warned that more turmoil is possible in Russia after a short-lived coup instigated by a mercenary group once loyal to Putin.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the prediction on Sunday in the first comments from a senior administration official on Russia’s future after a whirlwind 48 hours which left the leader of the Wagner Group exiled after his troops marched on Moscow.
“This is an unfolding story, and I think we’re in the midst of a moving picture,” Mr Blinken said on CBS show Face the Nation. “We haven’t seen the last act. We’re watching it very closely.”
He went on to say that the rebellion showed “real cracks” in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power structure, and raised “profound questions” about his ability to hold on to that power.
His comments came after the Kremlin announced that Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, would accept a deal requiring him to leave Russia for Belarus in exchange for immunity for members of Wagner which has been on the front lines of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for months.
Mr Prigozhin has become increasingly vocal about failures in Russia’s command, and accused the nation’s generals of mismanaging the war.
A senior administration official also told The Washington Post that US intelligence agencies have known about the mercenary group’s impending attack since earlier in June.
Mr Blinken’s remarks are in line with many commentators in the US and Europe who have predicted that Mr Putin’s control over Russia and his military will continue to slip as further victories are won by Ukraine against their invading foes.
“This is the biggest crisis of his time in power since [Putin] became president in 2000,” Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia,told MSNBC on Sunday.
Mr Prigozhin’s exile is at the very least a black eye for Mr Putin given that a day ago the Russian leader was denouncing Wagner’s advancing forces as traitors and vowing retribution.
None of those involved in the uprising will see consequences for their actions, according to reports.
Mr Blinken also said on Sunday that he expected the public would learn more in the coming days what concessions Mr Prigozhin was able to secure in his deal with Mr Putin.
“We still don’t have finality in terms of what was actually agreed between Prigozhin and Putin,” he told CBS News.
“I suspect that we’re going to learn more in the days and weeks ahead about what deal they struck.”