U.S. officials noted that Prigogine was planning to take action against the Russian military, but were surprised by his rapid escalation.
U.S. intelligence officials believe Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the private military group Wagner, has been planning a major challenge to Russia’s military leadership for some time, but the ultimate goal is unclear, three people close to the file told CNN. . .
Intelligence officials briefed congressional leaders on the so-called “Gang of Eight” earlier this week about Wagner’s group’s movements and stockpiling of equipment near Russia, two of the people said.
U.S. and Western intelligence officials saw signs that Prigozhin was preparing for such an attack, including stockpiling weapons and ammunition, according to a Western intelligence official and another person familiar with the intelligence. .
A source close to the special services said that “everything happened very quickly” and that it was difficult to determine how serious Prigozhin was about the threat to the Russian army and where he was leading his troops.
Prigogine has vowed to retaliate against Russian military leaders over Friday’s attack on the Wagner military camp and has taken control of military facilities in two Russian cities. Yet on Saturday afternoon, he released an audio recording of Russian President Vladimir Putin leading his forces on a march into Moscow, hours after the uprising began, the biggest threat to his rule. for decades.
“We are turning back our convoys as planned and returning to our field camps by a different route,” he said in a Telegram message after his forces took control of several military facilities and deployed some of their troops. to Moscow.
As the situation unfolds, U.S. and Western officials are trying to avoid considering how Putin could weaponize any Western involvement in the escalating crisis, sources told CNN. close to the mind of the administration.
Administration officials called emergency meetings late Friday to assess the incident, which began so quickly that they caught U.S. and European officials off guard, the sources said.
President Joe Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on Saturday about the events in Russia and reaffirmed their “unwavering support for Ukraine.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s office confirmed his speech on Saturday. He met with representatives of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the European Union.
During the discussion, “Secretary Blinken reiterated that US support for Ukraine will not change,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, adding that the US would be in “close coordination” with Western officials.
Great Britain too A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told CNN that the government’s emergency task force was meeting to discuss the developments.
When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stalled earlier this year, U.S. officials revealed last year that an internal power struggle was underway between Wagner’s group and the government. Earlier, Russian CNN reported. However, representatives of the American and European special services did not predict that Prigozhin would move to invade Russia’s Rostov region with his own forces, according to special service sources.
“It’s very difficult to say how much was said and how much was real,” one of the sources told CNN. “Nothing really happened, the tension lasted for a long time.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed by the national security team on the latest developments in Russia on Saturday and will continue to be briefed throughout the day, the White House said in a statement.
“We will continue to monitor the situation,” National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge told CNN Saturday afternoon.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also discussed the situation in Russia with his counterparts in Canada, France, Germany, Poland and Great Britain, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Saturday.
A European intelligence official told CNN that “temperatures have obviously risen,” but few could have guessed what Prigogine was planning. The official said West will monitor how that plays out over the next 24 to 48 hours, after which supply shortages for Wagner’s forces will begin.
It is unclear to American or European officials how far in advance Prigogine planned the uprising. A source close to Western intelligence said it took at least a few days to organize it. According to another source, Rostov is very close to the front lines in Ukraine, so it may not have been given much thought.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said on Saturday that the dispute exposed Russia’s “weakness”, while a Ukrainian defense spokesman called it “the collapse of Putin’s regime”.
“Russia’s weakness is obvious. Weakness on a large scale”, Zelensky said on Twitter. “The longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our soil, the more chaos, sorrow and problems will follow.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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