US Secretary of State says brief Russian armed rebellion shows 'cracks' in Putin's rule

ByShawna Mizelle, CNNWire
Monday, June 26, 2023
Blinken says Russian armed rebellion shows 'cracks' in Putin's rule
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the brief insurrection in Russia led by the Wagner paramilitary group shows "cracks" in Russian President Vladimir Putin's role as a leader of the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the brief and chaotic insurrection in Russia led by the Wagner paramilitary group shows "cracks" in Russian President Vladimir Putin's role as a leader of the country.

"This is just an added chapter to a very, very bad book that Putin has written for Russia. But what's so striking about it is, it's internal," Blinken told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union," describing the situation as "extraordinary."

"The fact that you have from within someone directly questioning Putin's authority, directly questioning the premises that - upon which he launched this aggression against Ukraine. That, in and of itself, is something very, very powerful. It adds cracks. Where those go, when they get there, too soon to say, but it clearly raises new questions that Putin has to deal with," he said.

The comments from the nation's top diplomat underscore the short-lived intensity of a crisis that started when Yevegeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, marched his fighters toward Moscow, taking control of Russian military facilities along the way.

Prigozhin on Friday openly accused Russia's military of attacking a Wagner camp and killing a "huge amount" of his men. For months, he had railed against Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the country's top general, Valery Gerasimov, whom he blames for Moscow's faltering invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin responded to the show of force from the Wagner Group by deploying heavily armed troops to the streets of Moscow and warning residents to stay indoors.

By Saturday afternoon, the Kremlin said a deal had been reached to end the insurrection, with Prigozhin heading to neighboring Belarus and Wagner fighters turning back from their march.

US intelligence had painted a grim picture, with the expectation that Prigozhin's march toward Moscow would encounter much more resistance and be "a lot more bloody than it was," according to one US official.

There was surprise that Russia's professional military didn't do a better job of confronting Wagner troops as they moved into Rostov and up towards Moscow, the official said. Compounding that surprise was the swiftness of the deal that was struck to cease the insurrection.

"We assessed it was going to be a great deal more violent and bloody," the official told CNN.

The remarkable challenge to Russian leadership - while brief - threatened to plunge the country into crisis and destabilize it's already stumbling war efforts in Ukraine.

"We don't know the effect this will have, but it clearly once again shows the world the difference between what is happening in Ukraine and what is happening in Russia," Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told Bash in a separate interview on "State of the Union."

Though tensions have deescalated, Putin may be more exposed than he has been in the last 23 years following the attempted insurrection, according to former CIA Director David Petraeus.

"The government has been shaken. Putin has been shaken personally. This makes him more vulnerable, arguably, than he has at any time in his two-decade rule of the Russian Federation," Petraeus said in a separate appearance on "State of the Union."

Petraeus said the rebellion will add to existing doubts surrounding the invasion in Ukraine, which the retired US Army general categorized as a "catastrophic mistake, a terrible blunder on the part of Putin."

President Joe Biden on Sunday discussed the US' continued support for Ukraine with President Volodymyr Zelensky, a White House official said.

Blinken said Sunday that it was "too soon" to determine how the saga will end and that the fate of Russian leadership should be left up to its citizens.

"But we can say this: First of all, what we've seen is extraordinary. And I think you've seen cracks emerge that weren't there before," he said.

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