CIA Director William Burns said that the repercussions of the recent aborted revolt in Russia led by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin won’t blow over any time soon and offer a reminder of the damage President Putin’s regime has inflicted on Russia.
“It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin’s mendacious rationale for its invasion of Ukraine, and of the Russian military leadership’s conduct of the war,” Burns said on Saturday in a speech delivered at the Ditchley Foundation in Oxfordshire, England. “The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time, a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin’s war on his own society and his own regime.”
The intelligence official’s remarks come a week after Wagner paramilitary forces launched a march toward Moscow in protest over Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s alleged plan to eliminate the mercenary group and fold its fighters into Russia’s military. The Wagner forces briefly seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and made it to the capital city’s outer limits before calling off the mutiny. In an apparent deal with the help of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin said the Wagner chief wouldn’t be charged for his actions and would relocate to Belarus.
In the months leading up to his mutiny, Prigozhin — once a close confidant of Putin — had been ramping up his public critique of Russia’s military, accusing senior leadership of incompetence.
Burns cast Prigozhin’s revolt as “an armed challenge to the Russian state.”
Reiterating President Biden’s assertion that the U.S. and its allies played no part in the uprising, Burns said the U.S. “has had and will have no part” in what it says is an internal Russian affair.
Burns called Russia’s war on Ukraine a “strategic failure for Russia — its military weaknesses laid bare,” while NATO forces have “grown bigger and stronger,” he said.
Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Russia between 2005 to 2008, has watched Putin closely for years. After the CIA came to believe Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Burns met with Putin in late 2021. The visit left him discouraged and convinced that the Russian leader was leaning toward an attack on Ukraine.
The moment of “disaffection” with Putin’s war, Burns said in his remarks Saturday, gives the CIA a rare opportunity to recruit Russian intelligence sources.
“We’re very much open for business,” Burns said, noting that the agency recently posted on the messaging platform Telegram “to let brave Russians know how to contact us safely on the dark web.”