Senior American national security officials had indications Wednesday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defense officials, according to official briefings. about intelligence.
The information suggests that the United States had at least some warning of the coming turmoil in Russia, just as it warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine.
In this case, the information is considered strong and alarming because of the possibility that a major nuclear-armed rival of the United States could fall into chaos.
Although it was unclear when the United States first learned of the plot, intelligence officials held briefings Wednesday with administration and defense officials. On Thursday, as more confirmation of the plot came in, intelligence officials briefed a narrow group of congressional leaders, according to officials familiar with the briefings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak in public. On Friday night, Prigozhin dramatically escalated his fight, launching a march on Moscow that the Russian government described as an attempted coup. On Saturday, he called his fighters and agreed to flee to Belarus after a day of unrest.
For months, intelligence officials have tracked rising tensions between Mr. Prigozhin and leaders of the Russian defense ministry, including Sergei K. Shoigu, the defense minister.
Intelligence reports released as part of the Discord leaks show that the United States intercepted communications between senior Russian military leaders debating how to handle Mr. Prigozhin for more ammunition.
Much of the tension has been public, as the leader of the mercenary military group has used interviews and Telegram posts to rebuke Mr. Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, who called them incompetent and accused. that they misled Mr. Putin about the progress of the war with Ukraine.
But in recent days when intelligence officials got initial warnings that Mr. Prigozhin.
The officials said the intelligence agencies did not know what the results of Mr. Prigozhin to take military action, but they were immediately concerned about what could affect the control of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal. President Biden, speaking last October, spoke of the dangers Mr. Putin would pose if he felt cornered and said the US was looking for “on-ramps” for Mr. Putin.
CNN earlier reported that the US had informed congressional leaders of their concerns that Mr. Prigozhin prepared to challenge the Russian military leadership.
Since Mr. Prigozhin acted on Friday, American officials have been on lockdown, saying little publicly about his intentions or what they know about events on the ground. Officials are cautious, because events are moving fast and because they don’t want to give Mr. Putin any excuse to blame the west for Mr. Putin’s actions. Prigozhin. But many officials said they fully expected Mr. Putin to eventually say the uprising was the result of a foreign plot.