An attempted armed mutiny in Russia shows “real cracks” in President Vladimir Putin’s authority, America’s top diplomat Antony Blinken has said.
He told US media Saturday’s rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner fighters was a “direct challenge” to Mr Putin, forcing him into an amnesty agreement.
The deal halted Wagner’s march on Moscow. The mercenaries had earlier seized two major Russian cities.
Mr Putin accused the group of treason, but all charges were later dropped.
Under the deal, Wagner fighters must return to their field bases and Prigozhin move to Russia’s western neighbour Belarus, whose leader Alexander Lukashenko was involved in the negotiations.
The current whereabouts of Prigozhin, a former Putin loyalist, are unknown. He was last seen in public leaving Rostov-on-Don – one of the two southern cities where his fighters had taken control of military facilities.
Prigozhin’s press service said he would answer questions from the media “when he has normal communication means”, Russia’s RTVI news website reported on Sunday afternoon. It provided no further details.
Meanwhile, President Putin has not been seen in public since his nationwide TV address on Saturday morning to condemn the mutiny.
On Sunday, Mr Blinken told CBS, the BBC’s US news partner, that the 24-hour rebellion in Russia “raises profound questions, it shows real cracks”.
Mr Blinken, who also appeared on several other US talks shows, said it was “too early” to predict what impact the mutiny could have on the Kremlin or on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.
“If you put this in context 16 months ago, Putin was on the doorstep of Kyiv in Ukraine, looking to take the city in a matter of days, erase the country from the map,” Mr Blinken told ABC.
“Now, he’s had to defend Moscow, Russia’s capital, against a mercenary of his own making.”
The US diplomat added that he did not want to “speculate” on where this all could lead Russia and President Putin personally.
Russia has not publicly commented on Mr Blinken’s remarks.
The BBC’s Russia editor in Moscow Steve Rosenberg says President Putin does not emerge from Saturday’s events looking particularly strong.
He says the Wagner group had been able to seize control of military facilities in a major Russian city with apparent ease, then push north towards Moscow.
And Prigozhin is a free man – despite trying to topple the military leadership of Russia.__BBC.com