June 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine, Wagner rebellion news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 0516 GMT (1316 HKT) June 27, 2023
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6:40 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

During Wagner rebellion, allies reached out to Ukraine advising not to strike inside Russia

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt, Kylie Atwood and Kevin Liptak

Before Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin stood down on Saturday, there was outreach to Ukrainian officials from allies on a number of different levels, cautioning them to resist taking advantage of the chaos to strike inside Russia, according to a Western official.

The concern was that Ukraine and the West would be seen as helping Prigozhin and threatening Russian sovereignty.

"The message was don't rock the boat here," the official said, adding that the message was transmitted at the foreign minister level, deputies and through ambassadors.

"It's an internal Russian matter," the official said the Ukrainian officials were told, echoing what US and other Western officials have said publicly.

"Ukrainians were being cautioned by allies not to provoke the situation. Make hay of opportunities on Ukrainian territory but don't get drawn into internal matters or strike at offensive military assets inside of Russia," the official said.

In the war with Russia, Ukraine is suspected of carrying out a growing number of covert cross-border attacks and sabotage on Russian military facilities and even a drone strike on the Kremlin. Ukrainian forces have shelled the Russian Belgorod region, near the border between the countries.

"You just don't want to feed into the narrative that this was initiative by us," the official said. "It's what the Russians always wanted, proving that there are threats to Russian sovereignty."
7:32 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Wagner uprising "was almost hiding in plain sight," US Sen. Mark Warner says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt, Kylie Atwood and Kevin Liptak

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on May 16.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on May 16. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's uprising did not come out of nowhere. US officials had been tracking his ongoing growing feud with Russia's Ministry of Defense for months and took note when threats were traded back and forth between them. There were also signs that Wagner was stockpiling weapons and ammunition leading up to the rebellion, CNN has reported.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Gang of Eight, told CNN that Prigozhin's rebellion "was almost hiding in plain sight."

Still, it was surprising to US intelligence officials how little resistance Wagner faced.

"Putin of 10 years ago would have never allowed this to play out the way it did," Warner said, adding that Putin is "clearly weakened."

"The fact that you have a mercenary group, that I don't think had a full 25,000 troops the way Prigozhin claimed, but was able to literally march into Rostov, a city of a million people which was the command and control for the whole Ukrainian war and take it over with barely a shot fired — that is unprecedented, to say the least," Warner said.

Multiple sources told CNN that US and Western officials believe that Putin was simply caught off guard by Prigozhin's actions and did not have time to array his forces against the mercenaries before they managed to seize control of the military headquarters in Rostov. Putin also likely did not want to divert significant resources away from Ukraine, officials said.

Officials do believe, however, that had Prigozhin tried to seize Moscow or the Kremlin, he would have lost — decisively. That is likely why Prigozhin agreed to strike a deal with Belarus and ultimately turned his troops around, the officials said.

Once Prigozhin launched his rebellion, senior US officials began scrambling to connect with allies and partners and reiterate a key message: The West should remain silent and not give Putin any opening to lay the blame on the US or NATO for the insurrection.

Privately, US officials were reinforcing to the Russian government that the US had nothing to do with the uprising — and urging them to maintain the safety and security of their nuclear arsenal, officials said.

6:16 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

US gathered detailed intelligence on Wagner chief's rebellion plans but kept it secret, sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt, Kylie Atwood and Kevin Liptak

US intelligence officials were able to gather an extremely detailed and accurate picture of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's plans leading up to his short-lived rebellion, including where and how Wagner was planning to advance, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

But the intelligence was so closely held that it was shared only with select allies, including senior British officials, and not at the broader NATO level, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

It was not clear exactly when Prigozhin would act, the sources said. But he appears to have decided to move forward with his plan following a June 10 declaration by Russia's Ministry of Defense that all private military companies, including Wagner, would be forced to sign contracts with Russia's military beginning in July and essentially be absorbed by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The intelligence was so secret that within the US, it was briefed only to the most senior administration officials as well as the Gang of Eight members of Congress who have access to the most sensitive intelligence matters.

The secrecy surrounding the intelligence was why some senior European officials and even senior officials across the US government were caught off guard by Prigozhin's attack on Friday, and the speed with which Wagner forces marched into Rostov-on-Don and up toward Moscow into Saturday morning, the sources said.

Some NATO officials expressed frustration that the intelligence was not shared. But doing so would have risked compromising extremely sensitive sources and methods, sources explained. Ukrainian officials were not told about the intelligence in advance, either, officials said, due primarily to fears that conversations between US and Ukrainian officials might be intercepted by adversaries.

Biden spent the days after the rebellion fizzled out speaking with allies, including the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky. During those conversations, he shared what information the US had about the rebellion, according to officials, in order to ensure the leaders had a better understanding of what was known to US intelligence.

6:17 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Analysis: Here's how Ukraine will seek to take advantage following rebellion in Russia

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh

Ukrainian soldiers at their positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Sunday.
Ukrainian soldiers at their positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Sunday. Roman Chop/AP


Seismic shifts in Moscow must surely spell similar earthquakes along the front lines in Ukraine. But as of Monday, that’s yet to happen.

Ukraine’s forces have announced slight changes along the southern front during the weekend and more sustained progress around the largely symbolic city of Bakhmut —where thousands of Wagner fighters likely died over the winter.

On Monday morning, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Mailar said Ukrainian troops had retaken Rivnopil in Donetsk region, which might suggest greater progress in the south. But there has been no Russian collapse, despite that appearing as a major possibility in Moscow during a large part of Saturday, as mutinous Wagner forces threatened to march on the Russian capital.

Disruption to Russia’s presence around Bakhmut is a more likely outcome from the weekend’s turmoil, where some Wagner fighters may retain a presence but where Ukraine has already been advancing.

There will undoubtedly have been some changes to Russia’s military positioning as a result of Wagner’s failed insurrection.

The group appears to have prepared their rebellion for some time and the units used will hence not have been suddenly withdrawn from the trenches last week. But the Russian military may have panicked at seeing mercenaries advance on Moscow and sent help.

A key moment for Moscow's adversaries: This all provides opportunities that Russia’s enemies must seize carefully.

Ukraine and its NATO allies will urgently be trying to assess what and where they are, and whether they provide a material advantage to their counteroffensive. But this is not something you would seek to rush or get wrong.

The sudden application of a bulk of Ukraine’s forces to exploit Russian weaknesses is something Kyiv will doubtless have been patiently waiting for and weighing the merits of for weeks.

The weekend’s events have left an indelible mark on the Kremlin’s chances of success in the war. And there are three different ways this can assist Ukraine.

Read more.

4:56 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Putin speaks to Emirati counterpart about Wagner rebellion, the Kremlin says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Sofia Cox

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan about the June 24 Wagner rebellion, according to the Kremlin on Monday.

The call was at the initiative of the Emirati side, and the president was interested in "hearing assessments of the situation in Russia in connection with the attempted rebellion on June 24," the Kremlin said.

Mohamed bin Zayed declared his "full support for the actions of the Russian leadership," according to the Kremlin.

UAE state news agency WAM tweeted on Monday saying the UAE and Russian presidents discussed bilateral relations over a phone call and "reaffirm the need to preserve the stability of Russia and the safety of its people."

The two leaders also discussed cooperation between their countries following their meeting on June 16 at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, according to the Kremlin statement.

Some context: At that meeting the two leaders discussed bilateral relations and the situation in Ukraine, according to UAE state news agency WAM on June 16.

"The UAE continues to support all efforts aimed at reaching a political solution through dialogue & diplomacy - towards global peace & stability," The Emirati president Tweeted on June 16 about the meeting.
5:17 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Putin is holding meeting with top security officials, including defense minister, Kremlin says

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Vladimir Putin meets with Russia's top security officials, in Moscow, on Monday.
Vladimir Putin meets with Russia's top security officials, in Moscow, on Monday. Valery Sharifulin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding a meeting with the heads of security agencies, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday night, according to state media RIA Novosti. 

"Prosecutor General Krasnov, Interior Minister Kolokoltsev, Defense Minister Shoigu, FSB director Bortnikov, National Guard head Zolotov, FSO director Kochnev, head of the Investigative Committee Bastrykin, and the head of the Kremlin administration Vaino are participating," according to RIA Novosti.

3:39 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

Putin says Wagner fighters can sign up with defense ministry, return to families or move to Belarus

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London and Anna Chernova 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday thanked the Wagner Group fighters who made the "right decision" and halted their advance. 

"I thank those soldiers and commanders of the Wagner Group who made the only right decision — they did not go for fratricidal bloodshed, they stopped at the last line," Putin said in an address to the nation.

He also said those fighters would have the "opportunity to continue serving Russia by entering into a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and friends. Whoever wants to can go to Belarus."

During the address to the nation, Putin did not mention Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin by name. 

Prigozhin broke his silence earlier Monday in an audio message — his first since allegedly agreeing to leave Russia for Belarus in a deal to end the insurrection. Belarusian officials said they cannot confirm if Prigozhin arrived in the country.

Putin's address on Monday lasted five minutes. 

5:04 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

"Armed rebellion would have been suppressed anyway," Putin says

From CNN's Lauren Kent

Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in Moscow, on Monday.
Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in Moscow, on Monday. Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an address to the nation Monday night, said the "armed rebellion would have been suppressed anyway," a reference to the insurrection launched by the Wagner Group.

"Civil solidarity showed that any blackmail and attempts to organize an internal mutiny will end in defeat," he said.

Putin was speaking from inside the Kremlin in Moscow, according to Russian state media TASS.

The Russian president appeared to be speaking in a pre-recorded address. 

Putin's last address to the nation was on Saturday morning while Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner forces launched their march toward Moscow.

4:06 p.m. ET, June 26, 2023

US reached out to oil producers at home and abroad as chaos engulfed Russia, official says

From CNN's Matt Egan and Kevin Liptak 

As Russia faced a shocking rebellion, White House officials reached out to foreign and domestic oil producers about the dangerous situation unfolding in one of the world’s leading oil powers, a US official told CNN on Monday.

The conversations with oil producers were described as precautionary in nature. They occurred as other American officials were seeking more information about what was really happening inside Russia and attempting to assess the potential consequences, including on the global economy. 

Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin generated international concern over the weekend by capturing a Russian city and threatening to march all the way to Moscow. 

On Monday, US President Joe Biden said he'd instructed members of his national security team to "prepare for a range of scenarios" as the would-be rebellion was underway.

Representatives from the White House, Energy Department and Treasury Department did not comment on the outreach to oil producers. 

The shocking images raised the specter of a nightmare scenario for the US economy where instability derails Russian oil flows, sending gasoline prices skyrocketing just as inflation has cooled.

“Russia matters because it’s the world’s largest net oil exporter. Period,” said Bob McNally, a former senior energy official to President George W. Bush. “Revolutions in major oil countries are a huge deal. I’m sure that focused minds in the White House over the weekend.”

Potential impact: Russia exported 7.8 million barrels of oil and petroleum products per day in May, according to the International Energy Agency.

McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group, said chaos in Russia could theoretically shut down oil production or block export facilities. He recalled how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year set off shockwaves in energy markets.

“When we thought we were going to lose Russia — just the thought of it — caused gasoline to go to $5 a gallon,” McNally said. 

Investors breathed a sigh of relief as Prigozhin’s rebellion proved short-lived, with the Wagner boss turning around his march toward Moscow. After briefly climbing on the Russia news, US oil prices closed just 0.3% higher on Monday at $69.37 a barrel.  

Helima Croft, a former CIA analyst who now heads global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told clients on Sunday that she understands the White House was “actively engaged” on Saturday in “reaching out to key foreign and domestic producers about contingency planning to keep the market well supplied if the crisis impacted Russian output.”

Croft said a "significant concern" was that Putin would declare martial law and prevent "workers from showing up to major loading ports and energy facilities" and therefore potentially halt "millions of barrels of exports."

The former CIA analyst recalled how deep unrest in Libya shut down vast amounts of production in that OPEC nation last decade, sending oil prices surging. “There was a concurrent concern that critical pipelines could either be directly targeted or inadvertently damaged if the insurrection turned into a full-scale war,” Croft wrote in a note.

McNally said it is standard operating procedure for US energy officials to gather intel during crises like the one that unraveled in Russia. He noted that "checking with their sources in the industry while the world’s largest exporter is experiencing shocking instability is good business practice."