When Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, launched his attempted mutiny on the morning of June 24, Vladimir Putin was paralyzed and unable to act decisively, according to Ukrainian and other security officials in Europe. No orders were issued for most of the day, the officials said.
The Russian president had been warned by the Russian security services at least two or three days ahead of time that Prigozhin was preparing a possible rebellion, according to intelligence assessments shared with The Washington Post. Steps were taken to boost security at several strategic facilities, including the Kremlin, where staffing in the presidential guard was increased and more weapons were handed out, but otherwise no actions were taken, these officials said.
“Putin had time to take the decision to liquidate [the rebellion] and arrest the organizers” said one of the European security officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. “Then when it began to happen, there was paralysis on all levels. … There was absolute dismay and confusion. For a long time, they did not know how to react.”
This account of the standoff, corroborated by officials in Western governments, provides the most detailed look at the paralysis and disarray inside the Kremlin during the first hours of the severest challenge to Putin’s 23-year presidency. It is consistent with public comments by CIA Director William J. Burns last week that for much of the 36 hours of the mutiny Russian security services, the military and decision-makers “appeared to be adrift.”
It also appears to expose Putin’s fear of directly countering a renegade warlord who’d developed support within Russia’s security establishment over a decade. Prigozhin had become an integral part of the Kremlin global operations by running troll farms disseminating disinformation in the United States and paramilitary operations in the Middle East and Africa, before officially taking a vanguard position in Russia’s war against Ukraine. [Continue reading…]