Kyiv — Adoring supporters greeted President Vladimir Putin in southern Russia’s Dagestan region Wednesday as the Kremlin continued projecting an image of a leader who’s popular and in control of his country. But less than a week after Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin‘s failed insurrection, a lot of questions remain about the strength of Putin’s two-decade-plus grip on power.
CBS News learned Wednesday that the U.S. has intelligence suggesting a senior Russian general had advanced knowledge of the mutiny, raising the possibility that the Wagner leader believed he would have support for his putsch from within the Russian military.
The Kremlin dismissed those claims as speculation and gossip, but in his first interview since the weekend uprising, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, has told CBS News he believes Prigozhin was in league with not just one Russian military officer, but 14.
“Prigozhin is not an independent person,” Danilov told CBS News. “He is owned by high-ranking people in President Putin’s inner circle… They are his owners.”
“This is a group of people who have a goal to change the leadership of Russia,” claimed Danilov.
One senior general widely reported to be involved or at least to have known about Prigozhin’s attempted uprising is Sergei Surovikin, who commanded Russia’s war in Ukraine for several months until he was demoted in January as Russian troops lost ground.
The former overall commander of Russia’s Air Force, Surovikin — who earned the nickname “General Armageddon” for this ruthless bombing campaigns in Syria — hasn’t been seen since telling the Wagner mutineers to return to their bases as Saturday’s mutiny foundered. Two U.S. officials told CBS News on Thursday that Gen. Surovikin had been detained in Russia. It was not clear whether the senior Russian commander remained in custody, or had just been detained for questioning and then released.
Asked about Surovikin Thursday at the Kremlin, spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred reporters to Russia’s defense ministry.
We asked Danilov if Surovikin was one of the generals involved in the brief mutiny.
“Do you want me to name them all?” Danilov asked with a sarcastic smile. “I can’t.”
Many analysts say Putin has been weakened more by the revolt than any other challenge he’s faced since rising to power in Russia almost a quarter of a century ago, and Danilov believes the Russian leader may face another rebellion.
“Even if he executes the generals who had some sort of part in the mutiny, this will not affect the outcome,” Danilov told CBS News. “The wheels are in motion for Putin’s demise.”
Danilov believes the chaos brought by the failed mutiny in Russia will eventually benefit Ukraine as it wages a grinding counteroffensive against Putin’s invasion.
Among America’s close European allies, who have supported Ukraine alongside Washington, there was clearly apprehension Thursday about what a “weaker” Putin, or those around him, might do next.
“A weaker Putin is a greater danger,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top foreign affairs and security official, told reporters in Brussels. “Now we have to look at Russia as a risk because of internal instability.”
Source : CBSNews