UKRAINE UPDATE: 26 JUNE 2023
Wagner uprising challenges Putin, says Blinken; Russian troops attempt to advance
Russian officials met allies, including China and North Korea, a day after the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, halted his dramatic advance toward the capital. That sudden turnaround defused the biggest threat to President Vladimir Putin’s almost quarter-century grip on power.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the uprising posed a direct challenge to Putin. As part of a deal to end the revolt, Putin guaranteed that Prigozhin would be allowed to leave for Belarus and authorities would drop criminal mutiny charges against him and his fighters. There was no immediate sign of him heading to the neighbouring country, and Putin has been out of the public eye since a television address on Saturday.
- Blinken says Wagner uprising is ‘direct challenge’ to Putin
- China backs Russian ‘national stability’ move as diplomats meet
- Silence cloaks Kremlin after Russian mutiny against Putin
- Russia’s descent into chaos marks a ‘good day’ for Ukraine
- What is Russia’s Wagner group and why was it accused of mutiny?
Lukashenko has another call with Putin
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talked to Putin on Sunday morning, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported without providing details about the call, the pair’s second in as many days.
There was no confirmation from Russian official sources about the call.
Lukashenko also had a phone call with former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss the situation in the region, Belta said in the same statement.
Blinken says uprising poses ‘direct challenge’ to Putin
Blinken said the Wagner group’s revolt was a “direct challenge” to Putin’s authority, and that the US was focused on supporting Ukraine in its war to drive out Russian forces.
“This raises profound questions. It shows real cracks,” Blinken said on Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We can’t speculate or know exactly where that’s going to go. We do know that Putin has a lot more to answer for in the weeks and months ahead.”
“This is an unfolding story. We haven’t seen the last act,” Blinken said, adding that US intelligence hadn’t seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture amid the crisis.
Silence cloaks the Kremlin after Wagner mutiny against Putin
An eerie calm fell on Russia after the dramatic end to an armed uprising that posed the greatest threat to Vladimir Putin’s almost quarter-century rule.
The man who led the insurrection has gone uncharacteristically quiet. The president hasn’t been seen in public since denouncing the mutiny as “treason” and threatening “harsh” punishment that never transpired.
In a bewildering 24 hours, a transfixed international audience watched troops loyal to Russian mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin advance hundreds of kilometres toward Moscow at breakneck speed only for him to suddenly call off the assault and agree to go into exile with all charges dropped in a late-night deal.
The rapid chain of events left the US and Europe puzzling over the political implications of a rebellion that shattered Putin’s invincible image as Russia’s leader. The crisis unfolded amid bitter divisions in Russia over the faltering war in Ukraine, the biggest conflict in Europe since World War 2, as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to try to push Russian forces out of occupied territories.
The US had intelligence several days ago that Prigozhin was plotting to take armed action against Russian defence officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In China, which has boosted ties with Putin and refused to join US-led sanctions over the war, Foreign Minister Qin Gang met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing on Sunday to discuss international and regional issues of common interest, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Even North Korea appeared concerned. Vice Foreign Minister Im Chon Il “expressed firm belief that the recent armed rebellion in Russia would be successfully put down” at a meeting with the Russian ambassador, North Korea’s Central News Agency reported.
Putin (70) hasn’t commented on the deal brokered by his ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, that ended Prigozhin’s revolt. The Kremlin said Putin guaranteed to let the Wagner leader travel to Belarus and to drop criminal mutiny charges against him and fighters involved in the rebellion.
“Putin had to make concessions and actually surrender, and instead of defeating Prigozhin, he had to negotiate with him and give security guarantees, demonstrating in public his vulnerability,” said Kirill Rogov, a former Russian government adviser who now heads Re: Russia, a Vienna-based think tank. “Previously, Putin absolutely didn’t allow anyone to talk to him in the language of public ultimatums.”
Prigozhin’s whereabouts are unknown and he hasn’t commented since announcing his forces were withdrawing to avoid bloodshed late on Saturday in an audio message on Telegram. Video on social media showed crowds cheering him and shaking his hand as he was driven away from a military installation in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don that Wagner had taken over early in the mutiny.
Moscow exchange to work as usual on Monday
Russia’s central bank said trading would take place as normal on Monday on the Moscow Exchange, even after authorities in the capital declared Monday a non-working day. Financial organisations would continue to provide key functions, the Bank of Russia said in a website statement.
Russian, Ukrainian troops vie for upper hand, says UK
Russian troops were attempting to advance in Ukraine’s east, including around Bakhmut, while also looking to quash Kyiv’s counteroffensive in the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an update.
Ukrainian forces had reset in recent days and “are using the experiences from the first two weeks of the counteroffensive to refine tactics for assaulting the deep, well-prepared Russian defences”, the UK defence ministry said.
In Luhansk, Kremlin forces made their own significant effort to launch an attack in the Serebryanka Forest near Kremina. “This probably reflects continued Russian senior leadership orders to go on the offensive whenever possible,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that Ukrainian forces had prevented a breakthrough so far.
Italy says peace in Ukraine now more likely
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said events in Russia showed that its front in Ukraine was weaker, telling the newspaper Messaggero in an interview that he hopes a peace deal in Ukraine is now closer.
“Putin is not a myth any more,” he said.
US ‘suspected Prigozhin was ready to act’
US intelligence agencies briefed senior military and administration officials on Wednesday that Wagner leader Prigozhin was preparing to take action against senior Russian defence officials, The New York Times reported, citing officials it didn’t identify.
The agencies kept silent about Prigozhin’s plans, the information about which was considered “both solid and alarming,” because they felt that if they said anything, Putin could accuse them of orchestrating a coup, the NYT said.
A narrow group of Congressional leaders was briefed on Thursday as additional confirmation of the plot became known, the newspaper reported. DM