American spy agencies knew last week that the Wagner Group in Russia was planning to take military action against Moscow, according to a report from The Washington Post.
It’s unclear exactly when the agencies became aware of the plans, but senior officials in the Biden administration, Pentagon, Department of State, and Congress had been briefed within the past two weeks on the plans for imminent military action against defense officials in Moscow, the Post reports. On Friday, the Wagner Group, headed by mercenary warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, began its march toward the Russian capital.
“There were enough signals to be able to tell the leadership … that something was up,” one American official told the Post. “So I think they were ready for it.”
The source said the administration and U.S. officials expressed “high concern” over what an uprising, instability, and potential change of leadership in Russia would mean for global stability, given the country is nuclear-armed. “There were lots of questions along those lines,” the official added. A potential “civil war” resulting from the uprising was the biggest concern for American officials, the Post reports.
The reports of American intelligence having known of the planned mutiny prior to the group’s march on Moscow — in which they got within 120 miles — parallel intelligence being reported before Russia invaded Ukraine, warning of the invasion. In that case, the intelligence was declassified and reported in an attempt to deter Putin from going through with the February 2022 invasion.
However, the reports that American intelligence knew of the Wagner Group’s planned uprising beforehand didn’t go public until the group had stopped its march and a deal had been brokered. This, according to the New York Times, is because reports of declassified intelligence on the matter could give Putin fuel to accuse the group of attempting a coup before any movements had occurred. Additionally, officials didn’t want to aid Putin in deterring the uprising and the “embarrassing” challenge of support, as the Times reports.
The breaking point for Prigozhin was a Russian Defense Ministry order sent on June 10 that ordered all volunteer detachments to sign contracts with the Russian government, according to the Post. This order, which didn’t specifically mention Wagner, angered Prigozhin because of the critical role the mercenary group played in the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin had publicly expressed his thoughts on the June 10 order, and Ukrainian officials had been monitoring the leader following the directive, believing he and Wagner would move against Russian defense officials. American officials believed Prigozhin had been planning a challenge to Russia’s military leadership for a while but were surprised by how quickly it escalated, according to a CNN report.
“Tensions between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense are no secret,” a senior Biden official told the Post. “We have all seen Mr. Prigozhin publicly criticize, warn, and even threaten the Russian military on any number of occasions.”
The Wagner Group got within 120 miles of Moscow before a deal was brokered by Belurusan President Alexander Lukashenko, which dropped any criminal charges against Prigozhin, halted the movement to Moscow, and exiled the Wagner leader to Belarus.
“If Prigozhin intended to drive a wedge between the command of Russian Federation Armed Forces and the Kremlin he failed,” a senior Western official told the Post.