The U.S. government knew of a “coup” plot against President Vladimir Putin weeks ago and planned for Russia to fall into “civil war.”
U.S. officials revealed that intelligence was gathered earlier this month that indicated Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, was planning armed action against the Russian defense establishment, the Washington Post reported on Saturday night.
The U.S. spy agencies promptly informed the White House and other government entities to ensure preparedness, according to the report.
The specifics and timing of Prigozhin’s plans were unclear until shortly before his surprising takeover of a military command in Rostov-on-Don and a tank run toward Moscow over Friday and Saturday.
While concerns regarding Russia’s nuclear arsenal and President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power arose, the primary fear was the potential instability resulting from a “civil war” within Russia.
A crucial trigger for Prigozhin was an order from the Russian Defense Ministry on June 10, requiring all volunteer detachments to sign contracts with the government.
Although not explicitly mentioning Wagner, the order implied a takeover of Prigozhin’s mercenary troops, who have played a vital role in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine and secured tactical victories.
Ukrainian military officials had been monitoring Prigozhin following the announcement and believed he might mobilize his forces against Moscow.
However, the Ukrainian official was unaware of the U.S. sharing intelligence with Kyiv about Prigozhin’s potential actions.
Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” due to his Kremlin catering contracts and as an internet propagandist, is also under criminal indictment in the United States for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the U.S. government will delay new sanctions against the Russian private military organization after its surrender.
Despite tensions between Prigozhin’s group and the Russian Ministry of Defense, Putin was aware of Prigozhin’s plans, although the exact timing of when he was informed remains unclear.
Putin’s lack of action to prevent Prigozhin’s military command takeover and his advance on Moscow reflects potential internal rivalries and a lack of coordination within the Russian government.
Although Prigozhin retreated after striking a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, including the Wagner chief’s return to Belarus, he is expected to accomplish his primary objective of a military shakeup that could lead to the removal of current Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Army Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The entire episode, which led to breathless reports of a brewing “civil war” in Russia that lasted less than 24 hours, has many Americans questioning the timing.
The Russian “coup” attempt flooded the headlines and crowded out lingering questions about President Joe Biden, such as emerging evidence that credibly implicates him in a bribery scheme with his son Hunter Biden.