The day-long mutiny, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, was aimed primarily at Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian general Valery Gerasimov, Burns said. Prigozhin had been publicly critical of such officials and insisted he was not targeting Putin.
But the fact that Wagner’s forces were able to traverse a good chunk of Russia unhindered was a major black eye for Putin, as were Prigozhin’s public criticisms of the logic of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the corruption of the Russian elite.
« I think in many ways it has exposed some of the significant weaknesses in a system that Putin has built, » Burns said. Even aside from the mutiny, such weaknesses « have been exposed by Putin’s misjudgment since he launched this invasion » of Ukraine.
This echoed earlier comments in the Aspen forum by British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly that the uprising exposed « cracks » in Putin’s regime.
There are allegations that Sergey Surovikin, another top Russian general, may have knowledge of Prigozhin’s rebellion plans. Surovikin hasn’t been seen in public for weeks. « I don’t think he enjoys a lot of freedom right now, » Burns said.
Putin has managed to defeat Prigozhin for now, essentially exiling him to Belarus. The Russian leader is likely to try to separate Prigozhin from what he finds useful in Wagner, a force with mercenaries in many countries, Burns said.
Putin will also likely find a way to take revenge on Prigozhin and eliminate him in the long run, said Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia.
“If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster,” Burns joked.