US says it is a new thing to see Putin’s leadership directly challenged

WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Monday said the situation in Russia remains dynamic days after an aborted mutiny, and said it does not have any assessment about the whereabouts of the boss of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“It is a certainly a new thing to see President Putin’s leadership directly challenged. It is a new thing to see Yevgeny Prigozhin directly questioning the rationale for this war and calling out that the war has been conducted essentially based on a lie,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

Prigozhin shocked the world by leading Saturday’s armed revolt, only to abruptly call it off as his fighters approached Moscow, the Russian capital, having shot down several aircraft but meeting no resistance on the ground during a dash of nearly 800 km (500 miles). Prigozhin’s Wagner has fought the bloodiest battles of the 16-month war in Ukraine.

A man holds a placard in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a tower of the Kremlin is seen in the background, in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

The United States had communications with the Russian government on Saturday, both through U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy and at other levels. Tracy told Russian officials that the United States expects Russia to uphold its obligations to protect embassy and diplomatic personnel.

Miller said the events over the weekend reinforce Washington’s concerns about the instability Wagner brings when it enters any country.

Wagner, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and other countries. It was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and started supporting pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Miller said Washington does not know what will happen to Wagner in Ukraine or in Africa, but to the extent that the group or a successor organization continues to operate in Africa, Ukraine or elsewhere, the United States will take actions to hold them accountable.

Reporting by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Jasper Ward; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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