The Biden administration told Ukrainian officials not to conduct covert attacks inside Russia where the Wagner Group insurgency was underway and advised them not to do anything that would influence the outcome of events or take advantage of the chaos, according to US officials.
At the time of the U.S. engagement with Ukraine, U.S. officials didn’t know exactly what Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had planned, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, but they did know that Mr. Prigozhin wanted military action in order to force Sergei K. Shoigu, Minister of Defense, and General Valery V. Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, from power.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said they did not know how he intended to do it, or what he intended to do to them. awareness, which I reported earlier CNNIt came shortly after Mr. Prigozhin began his rebellion, officials said.
In urging Kiev to exercise caution, American officials did not want to give President Vladimir Putin an excuse to claim that Prigozhin’s rebellion was orchestrated by the United States or Ukraine. They also said they believed that any high-profile operation by Ukrainian forces inside Russia was unlikely to have any significant impact on Prigozhin’s goals, but would allow Putin to level charges at the West, according to US estimates.
U.S. officials have specifically told Ukrainian officials that it is not the time to launch cross-border attacks or covert sabotage missions, or engage in whatever game Kiev might think might give them an edge in the war. American officials said that as far as they knew, Ukrainian intelligence units had acquiesced.
The warning appears to have worked, in part, as Russian officials have begun to indicate in recent days that they do not believe the West was behind the rebellion and have urged their embassies not to comment publicly on it.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow had collected information it believed showed the United States had asked Kiev not to exploit the rebellion.
“Instructions have been sent to Kiev so that the Ukrainians do not use this situation to organize sabotage on Russian soil and other provocations in the near future,” Mr. Lavrov said. In an interview with Russian television. “I can’t guarantee it 100 percent, but this is reliable information and it appears to be correct.”
Lavrov’s remarks suggest that, for once, the Kremlin does not see the West as the main culprit in the insurgency — unlike attacks inside Russia believed to have been carried out by Ukraine, which the Kremlin often blames on the West. The Kremlin, at least for now, seems intent on blaming Mr. Prigozhin primarily.
The United States believes that most assassinations, sabotage, and drone attacks inside Russia are the work of Ukrainian agents or sympathizers acting more or less at the direction of parts of the Ukrainian government or intelligence services. But in many cases, the United States does not know who exactly authorized the various operations in Ukraine.
Washington and Kiev disagreed over Ukraine’s covert action program, and the effectiveness of operations inside Russia. Senior U.S. officials periodically warned the Ukrainians about their actions across the border and covertly inside Russia, and repeatedly told them not to use U.S. equipment in these operations.
Some Ukrainian officials believe the covert attacks are significant because they prove that Mr. Putin is untouchable and that his control over the country is not as strong as he claims.
The caution from the US came in large part due to uncertainty about how events would play out. The officials said that the intelligence developed by US spy agencies in the days leading up to the start of the insurrection did not include Prigozhin’s plans to capture the city of Rostov and then march on Moscow.
Some American officials believe that Mr. Prigozhin was improvising much of his plan as he marched toward Moscow. Officials said that could explain the hazy intelligence about how he intended the end game for his insurgency to play out.
A senior U.S. military official said U.S. officials fear a bloodier outcome from potential clashes between Wagner forces moving north toward Moscow and Russian security personnel along the way.
But for reasons that are still not entirely clear, U.S. officials said, Russian ground units, including the Russian National Guard, did not fire on Mr. Prigozhin’s advancing column. Nevertheless, the Russian Air Force attacked the rebels, but suffered heavy losses: at least six combat helicopters and one Il-22 airborne command post were shot down.
U.S. officials said they believed Mr. Prigozhin was counting on support from at least some Russian leaders or security services. As that support never materialized publicly and the Kremlin rushed to Moscow’s defense, mobilizing thousands of security personnel, Mr. Prigozhin appears to be beginning to consider continuing the leadership.
At that point, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, stepped in with a plan to defuse the crisis, giving Mr. Prigozhin a way to save face, the US officials said.
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