Washington (CNN) — US intelligence was able to piece together an extremely detailed and accurate picture of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plans before his short-lived insurgency, including where and how he planned to advance, sources familiar with the matter told CNN. .
However, the information was kept so confidential that it was only shared with select allies, including senior British officials, and not at the broader NATO level, sources told CNN.
It was unclear exactly when Prigozhin would act, the sources added. But it seems the oligarch decided to go ahead with his plan after the Russian Defense Ministry announced on June 10 that all private military companies, including Wagner, would be forced to sign contracts with the Russian army from July and would essentially be absorbed by this agency.
The information was so secret that in the United States it was leaked only to the most senior administration officials and to members of the Congressional Gang of Eight, who have access to the most sensitive intelligence matters.
The secrecy surrounding intelligence information is why some senior European and American government officials were surprised by the attack on Prigozhin on Friday, and the speed with which Wagner’s forces entered Rostov-on-Don and rode to Moscow on Saturday morning, the sources said.
“It was extremely tight control,” said a person familiar with the information.
Some NATO officials have expressed frustration that information is not being shared. But that would have jeopardized extremely sensitive sources and methods, the sources said. Ukrainian authorities were also not given advance notice of the intelligence obtained, the officials said, primarily out of concern that conversations between U.S. and Ukrainian officials could be intercepted by adversaries.
Biden has spent the days following the outbreak of the rebellion in Russia talking with his allies, including the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During those talks, he shared information the United States had about the insurgency, officials said, to ensure the leadership had a better understanding of what U.S. intelligence knew.
“He was hiding in plain sight”
The Prigozhin rebellion did not come out of nowhere. US authorities had been following their growing dispute with the Russian Defense Ministry for months and had taken note of the threats they had exchanged. There were also indications that Wagner was stockpiling weapons and ammunition before the rebellion, CNN previously reported.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Group of Eight, said the Prigozhin Rebellion was “almost hiding in plain sight”.
Still, US intelligence officials were surprised at how little resistance the Wagner group encountered.
“The Putin of 10 years ago would never have allowed this to happen the way he did,” Warner said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.” And he added that Putin is “clearly weakened.”
“The fact that a group of mercenaries, which I don’t think had 25,000 soldiers as Prigozhin claimed, was able to literally enter Rostov, a city of a million people which was the center of command and control of the entire war in Ukraine, and taking it with barely a bullet fired, is unprecedented to say the least,” Warner said.
Multiple sources told CNN that US and Western officials believe Prigozhin’s actions simply caught Putin off guard and that he didn’t have time to deploy his forces against Wagner’s mercenaries before the group took over. control of the military headquarters in Rostov. It is also likely that Putin did not want to divert significant resources from Ukraine, officials say.
However, authorities believe that if Prigozhin had tried to take Moscow or the Kremlin would have lost decisively. It was likely for this reason that Prigozhin agreed to a deal with Belarus and eventually pushed his troops back, officials say.
A former US administration official told CNN that although there is “constant tension between Prigozhin and the [Ministerio de Defensa]there were times when the United States would not have been surprised if there were violent, albeit localized, skirmishes. But an episode of this magnitude was not something US intelligence would have anticipated a few weeks ago.
Biden said Monday he had asked members of his national security team to prepare for a “series of scenarios” as the insurgency unfolded. The White House later declined to say what scenarios were considered, but people familiar with the matter said a wide range of eventualities were considered, including the possibility that Prigozhin could reach Moscow.
Once Prigozhin launched his rebellion, senior US officials began rushing to reach out to allies and partners and reiterate a key message: that the West must remain silent and give Putin no chance to blame the US or NATO for the rebellion. .
Privately, US officials insisted to the Russian government that the United States had nothing to do with the revolt and urged it to maintain the security of its nuclear arsenal.
“Don’t Stir the Waters”
Contacts with Ukrainian officials by allies at different levels took place on Saturday before Prigozhin resigned, warning them not to take advantage of the chaos to strike inside Russia, according to a Western official.
The worry was that Ukraine and the West would be seen as helping Prigozhin and threatening Russian sovereignty.
“The message was not to stir the waters,” the official explained, adding that the message was being conveyed at the level of the foreign minister, lawmakers and through ambassadors.
“It’s an internal Russian affair,” the official told Ukrainian authorities, echoing what the United States and other Western officials had said publicly. “The Allies were warning the Ukrainians not to provoke the situation. Take advantage of opportunities on Ukrainian soil, but do not interfere in internal affairs and do not attack offensive military assets inside Russia,” he said. -he adds.
During the war, Ukraine is suspected of carrying out an increasing number of covert cross-border attacks and sabotage against Russian military installations, and even a drone attack on the Kremlin. Ukrainian forces shelled the Russian region of Belgorod, near the border between the two countries.
“You just don’t want to fuel the narrative that this was our initiative,” the official said. “That’s what the Russians have always wanted, to show that there are threats to Russian sovereignty.”