United States, allies not involved in the uprising against Putin

By Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Monday that a brief uprising by Russian mercenaries against the Kremlin was part of a struggle within the Russian system and that the United States and its allies were not involved.

Biden offered a cautious assessment of unfolding events in an effort to avoid stoking tensions with nuclear-armed Russia while offering firm Western support for Ukraine in its bid to repel Russian invaders.

“We made it clear we weren’t involved, we had nothing to do with it,” Biden said in his first comments about the Wagner mercenary uprising that fizzled out over the weekend.

Biden’s message that the West was not involved was sent directly to the Russians through various diplomatic channels, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He did not characterize Russia’s response.

At a White House event, Biden spoke of the dramatic power struggle that erupted as mutineers headed toward Moscow only to halt before reaching the capital.

Biden said he asked his national security team to update him “hour by hour” and prepare for a range of scenarios, which he did not detail.

Russian intelligence was investigating whether Western spy agencies played a role in the abortive mutiny, TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.

The U.S. intelligence community “was aware” that the mutiny orchestrated by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin “was a possibility” and advised the U.S. Congress “accordingly” before it began, a source familiar with the matter said. who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Biden administration would not respond to a widely held perception in Washington that the uprising showed Russian President Vladimir Putin weakened by his 16-month war on Ukraine.

State Department spokesman Matt Miller told reporters it’s not yet clear what the ultimate implications of what happened will be, but he noted, “It’s certainly a new thing to see President Putin’s leadership directly challenged It’s new to see Yevgeny Prigozhin directly questioning the rationale for this war and calling that the war was fought essentially on the basis of a lie .”

Biden said he spoke with key allies over a videoconference to ensure everyone was on the same page and coordinated in their response.

“They agreed with me that we had to make sure that we gave Putin no excuses – gave Putin no excuses – to blame the West and blame NATO,” he said.

Biden, who spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday, said he would speak to him later on Monday or Tuesday morning to make sure they were “on the same page.”

The White House said Biden also consulted with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Monday about the situation.

Biden said he and his team would continue to assess the fallout from the incident.

“It is still too early to draw a definitive conclusion on the direction this is taking,” he added.

He said his message to allies was “it’s important that we stay fully coordinated”.

Kirby said the United States does not know the parameters of the agreement between Putin and Prigozhin that ended the uprising. He said he did not know where Prigozhin was.

“We are not taking sides in this internal matter,” he said.

Kirby said a new US aid program for Ukraine would soon be announced. Sources told Reuters that the United States would announce a new military aid package for Ukraine worth up to $500 million on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Phil Stewart, Kanishka Singh, Trevor Hunnicutt and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mark Porter, Alistair Bell, Alex Richardson, Deepa Babington and Sandra Maler)

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