Jun 28, 2023, 10:45am EDT

Expert Views: Prigozhin may have colluded with other Russian officials before failed coup

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin speaks with servicemen during withdrawal of his forces from Bakhmut and handing over their positions to regular Russian troops, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in an unidentified location, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released June 1, 2023. Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTER
Press service of "Concord"/Handout via REUTERS

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U.S. intelligence officials are trying to determine whether Gen. Sergei Surovikin, a former top Russian commander in Ukraine, knew in advance about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed coup plot, The New York Times reported.

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Prigozhin is now exiled in Belarus following a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Wednesday, Lukashenko said that Putin had wanted to “wipe out” the Wagner insurgents before he talked the Russian president down.

The Belarusian leader said he warned Putin that an attack on Prigozhin could embolden sympathetic fighters and lead to a revolt from Wagner mercenaries.

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  • An intelligence official who spoke to the Times noted that in a video denouncing the mutiny, Surovikin’s body language indicated he was uncomfortable making the statement. The official likened it to “a hostage video.” Meanwhile, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said that “weird” circumstances — such as Wagner’s easy capture of the city of Rostov — indicate some level of collusion at Russia’s highest levels. — The New York Times
  • But Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik and a Russia expert, tweeted that the uprising seemed like a “desperate attempt” from Prigozhin to protect Wagner. “While Surovikin might have been sympathetic or privy to the plan, he sided with the state when necessary.”
  • British historian Lawrence Freedman opined that Prigozhin’s failure may be due to his struggle to get real-time military backing: Russian soldiers “were in no position to do much to help even if they were prepared to follow [Prigozhin] into mutiny,” because they were busy fighting on the front lines, Freedman said. — Comment is Freed