US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the short and chaotic uprising in Russia led by the Wagner paramilitary group showed “cracks” in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role as the country’s leader.
“This is just another chapter in a very bad book that Putin has written for Russia. But what’s shocking about it, it’s inside,” Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union ,” describing the situation as “exceptional.”
“The fact that you have from within a person who directly questions Putin’s authority, directly questions the places that – where he launched this aggression against Ukraine. That, in itself, is something that more powerful. It adds cracks. Where they go, when they get there, it’s easy to say, but it clearly raises new questions that Putin has to face,” he said.
The comments from the country’s top diplomat underscored the short-lived intensity of a crisis that began when Yevegeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, marched his fighters toward Moscow, taking control of facilities in Russian military on the way.
Prigozhin on Friday publicly accused the Russian military of attacking a camp in Wagner and killing a “huge amount” of his people. For months, he has taunted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the country’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, whom he blames for Moscow’s slow-moving invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin responded to the show of force from the Wagner Group by sending armed troops into the streets of Moscow and warning residents to stay home.
By Saturday afternoon, the Kremlin said an agreement had been reached to end the insurgency, with Prigozhin heading to neighboring Belarus and Wagner’s fighters returning from their march.
The unique challenge to Russia’s leadership – while short – threatens to plunge the country into crisis and destabilization that has already crippled Ukraine’s war efforts.
“We don’t know what effect this will have, but it clearly shows the world the difference between what’s happening in Ukraine and what’s happening in Russia,” said Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota Bash in a separate interview on “State of the Union.”
Retired general on Prigozhin: ‘Beware of open windows’
Even as tensions flare, Putin may be more exposed than in the past 23 years after the attempted coup, according to former CIA Director David Petraeus.
“The government was shaken. Putin was personally shaken. This makes him weaker, arguably, than at any time in his two decades of rule in the Russian Federation,” Petraeus said in a separate appearance on “State of the Union.”
Petraeus said the rebellion would add to existing doubts surrounding the invasion of Ukraine, which the retired US Army general categorized as a “catastrophic mistake, a terrible mistake on Putin’s part.”
Blinken said on Sunday that it was “too soon” to know how the saga would end and that the fate of Russia’s leadership should be left to its citizens.
“But we can say this: First of all, what we saw was amazing. And I think you’re seeing cracks appear that weren’t there before,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional details.