U.S. intelligence officials have acquired a highly comprehensive and accurate understanding of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plans, the chief of the Wagner private military company, regarding his short-lived rebellion. According to sources familiar with the matter, the intelligence includes precise details on Wagner’s intended advancements and operational strategies. However, the information was tightly restricted and selectively shared with key allies, notably senior British officials, rather than being disseminated at the broader NATO level.
The exact timing of Prigozhin’s intended actions remains to be determined, as per the sources. Nonetheless, he decided to proceed with his plan after Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced on June 10. The declaration mandated all private military companies, including Wagner, to sign contracts with Russia’s military starting in July, effectively absorbing them into the Russian Ministry of Defense.
CNN has learned from informed sources that US intelligence officials conducted an intensive operation to acquire an exceedingly detailed & accurate depiction of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plans before his short-lived rebellion as Wagner’s chief.#WagnerGroup #Prigozhin #CNN #WagnerGrp pic.twitter.com/ESNtX1TbND
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) June 27, 2023
The sensitivity of the intelligence necessitated strict confidentiality measures within the United States. It was exclusively briefed to senior administration officials and members of the Gang of Eight in Congress, a select group with access to the most sensitive intelligence issues. Furthermore, intelligence underscores the gravity of the situation and highlights the intricate web of alliances and geopolitical dynamics involved.
The U.S. Intelligence Shared Selectively Amid Fears of Compromising Sources and Methods
Sources revealed that numerous senior European and U.S. government officials were caught off guard by Prigozhin’s attack on Friday and the swift advance of Wagner forces toward Rostov-on-Don and onward to Moscow on Saturday morning. The sources emphasized the intelligence’s highly classified nature, frustrating many NATO officials as it was not shared with them. However, sharing the intelligence posed significant risks of exposing sensitive sources and methods, leading to maintaining strict confidentiality. Even Ukrainian officials should have been informed because adversaries could intercept conversations between Ukrainian and U.S. officials.
Following the failed rebellion, President Biden engaged in discussions with key allies, including Germany, France, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During these conversations, officials stated that Biden shared the information from U.S. intelligence to ensure that the leaders better understood the situation. Revealing the convert operation’s details highlights the challenges of safeguarding sensitive information while maintaining effective communication among allies.
Prigozhin’s Rebellion Surprises U.S. Intelligence Despite Moths of Tracking
U.S. officials had been closely monitoring the escalating dispute between Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense for months and the exchange of threats between the two parties. Additionally, there were indications that Wagner was accumulating weapons and ammunition in the lead-up to the rebellion, according to CNN‘s reports. Senator Mark Warner, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Gang of Eight remarked that Prigozhin’s rebellion was “almost hiding in plain sight.” Nevertheless, U.S. intelligence officials were taken aback by the minimal resistance encountered by Wagner forces.
On CNN’s “Inside Politics,” Warner highlighted the stark contrast between the current situation and how it would have unfolded a decade ago under Putin’s reign. He noted that Putin’s perceived weakening has allowed for unprecedented developments, such as a mercenary group—potentially not even consisting of the claimed 25,000 troops—to march into Rostov, a city of one million people and the Ukrainian war’s command and control center, and seize control with minimal opposition. Warner characterized this outcome as highly unusual and emphasized the event’s significance.
The revelation sheds light on the ability of Prigozhin’s rebellion to operate covertly, despite some indicators that hint at the impending upheaval. The surprising ease with which Wagner’s forces advanced underscores the evolving dynamics within Russia and poses critical questions about the overall stability and strength of Putin’s regime.
Putin’s Surprise and Prigozhin’s Strategic Retreat
U.S. and Western officials, according to multiple sources, assert that Putin was caught off guard by Prigozhin’s actions and lacked time to mobilize his forces against the Wagner mercenaries before they seized control of the military headquarters in Rostov. Additionally, diverting significant resources away from Ukraine was likely a concern for Putin. While officials believe that Prigozhin would have faced decisive defeat if he attempted to seize Moscow or the Kremlin, it is speculated that this realization prompted him to strike a deal with Belarus and redirect his troops.
According to a former administration official, tensions between Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense were consistently high, and the U.S. did not entirely unforeseen localized skirmishes. However, the scale of the rebellion caught U.S. intelligence by surprise until a few weeks ago. As the mutiny unfolded, President Biden directed his national security team to prepare for various scenarios, although specific details were not disclosed. Contingencies explored encompassed the possibility of Prigozhin reaching Moscow.
Following the launch of the rebellion, senior U.S. officials immediately initiated efforts to engage with allies and partners, stressing the importance of remaining silent to prevent Putin from blaming the U.S. or NATO for the insurrection. Privately, U.S. officials conveyed to the Russian government that the U.S. bore no involvement in the uprising while urging them to ensure the safety and security of their nuclear arsenal.
The swift and unexpected events have reshaped the geopolitical landscape, prompting intense diplomatic maneuvering as world powers seek to comprehend the evolving dynamics and maintain regional stability.