US intelligence officials knew well in advance that Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin was planning to mount an armed rebellion against the Russian military’s top commanders.
Congressional leaders were even briefed days prior to Saturday’s events, after US intelligence reportedly observed the mercenary firm mustering forces and amassing weapons in preparation for possibly making a move against the defense ministry.
Describing the Congressional briefings, The New York Times reported late Saturday that “U.S. spy agencies had indications days earlier that Mr. Prigozhin was planning something and worked to refine that material into a finished assessment, officials said.”
“The information shows that the United States was aware of impending events in Russia, similar to how intelligence agencies had warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine.”
But unlike in the case of those prior invasion warnings of February 2022, the US administration stayed silent ahead of the dramatic Wagner events, likely hoping that it would create destabilization in the Russian state, and negatively impact military operations in Ukraine. So far, there’s been little evidence to suggest the whole short-lived mutiny by Wagner led to significant Ukrainian gains along the frontlines.
The Times explains the rationale of its intel sources as follows:
U.S. officials felt that if they said anything, Mr. Putin could accuse them of orchestrating a coup. And they clearly had little interest in helping Mr. Putin avoid a major, embarrassing fracturing of his support.
While it is not clear exactly when the United States first learned of the plot, intelligence officials conducted briefings on Wednesday with administration and defense officials. On Thursday, as additional confirmation of the plot came in, intelligence officials informed a narrow group of congressional leaders, according to officials familiar with the briefings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
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While over the past months Prigozhin has made his personal hatred for Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and top general Valery Gerasimov well known, the intelligence that Washington supposedly had seems very specific and appears to have accurately predicted events, a mere few days before they unfolded.
While the Kremlin has thus far refrained from blaming the tumultuous events on US or NATO countries, it has indirectly hinted and warned that the West could exploit the situation.
“The attempted armed mutiny in our country has aroused strong disapproval in Russian society, which firmly supports President Vladimir Putin,” a Foreign Ministry statement said Saturday. “We warn the Western countries against the slightest attempts to use the internal situation in Russia for achieving their Russophobic aims. Such attempts are futile and evoke no support either in Russia or among soberly-minded political forces abroad.”