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WAR IN EUROPE

Biden says US, allies not involved in uprising against Putin

Armed private military company (PMC) Wagner Group servicemen, including some on a tank, keep watch at a street in downtown Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, 24 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR)

US President Joe Biden on Monday said a brief uprising by Russian mercenaries against the Kremlin was part of a struggle within the Russian system, and the United States and its allies were not involved in it.

“We made clear we were not involved, we had nothing to do with this,” Biden said in his first comments on the uprising by Wagner mercenaries that fizzled over the weekend.

Biden’s message that the West was not involved was sent directly to the Russians through various diplomatic channels, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. He did not characterise Russia’s response.

 

 

At a White House event, Biden addressed the dramatic power struggle that erupted over the weekend when the mutineers barreled toward Moscow only to stop before reaching the capital.

Biden said he had directed his national security team to update him on the situation “hour by hour” and to prepare for a range of scenarios, which he did not detail.

Russian intelligence services were investigating whether Western spy agencies played a role in the aborted mutiny, the Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.

The US intelligence community “was aware” that the mutiny orchestrated by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny “was a possibility” and briefed Congress “accordingly” before it began, said a source familiar with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biden said he spoke with key allies on a video conference to make sure everyone was on the same page and coordinated in their response.

“They agreed with me that we had to make sure that we gave (Russian President Vladimir) Putin no excuse – gave Putin no excuse – to blame this on the West and blame this on Nato,” he said.

Biden, who spoke to Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelinskiy on Sunday, said he would be speaking to him again later on Monday or Tuesday morning to make sure they were “on the same page”.

The White House said Biden was also consulting on Monday with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni about the situation.

Biden said he and his team would continue assessing the fallout from the incident.

“It’s still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going,” he added.

He said his message to allies was “it’s important that we stay completely coordinated”.

Kirby said the United States does not know the parameters of the deal reached between Putin and Prigozhin that ended the uprising. He said he did not know Prigozhin’s whereabouts.

“We’re not taking sides in this internal matter,” he said.

Kirby said a new package of US assistance for Ukraine would be announced soon. Sources told Reuters that the United States would announce as soon as Tuesday a new military aid package for Ukraine worth up to $500-million.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Phil Stewart, Kanishka Singh and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Mark Porter, Alistair Bell, Alex Richardson and Deepa Babington.)

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