It remains to be seen whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has complete control of his troops at this time, former US Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Ukraine on Thursday.
Responding to a question from CNN's Erin Burnett, Pence called it an "open question" whether the Russian president has full command of his military.
Pence said the Wagner private military group — which led a stunning, if brief, armed rebellion against Kremlin leadership last weekend — "are understood to be some of the most elite forces in Russia."
"Now they've been dispersed," Pence continued, "they're being invited back into the military."
"But I did hear today that they are decamping in Belarus along with their leader, who's now in exile," the former vice president said. "And, I must just tell you, that we don't know what we don't know about what's happening in Russia. But that's always true about Russia and Vladimir Putin."
Pence said “repelling Russian aggression” is in the United States’ “national interest” as other Republican presidential candidates question the amount of US aid for Ukraine.
“I know there's debate, both in my party and around the country, about American involvement here, but I really believe that the majority of the American people understand that we are the leader of the free world and standing for freedom and supporting those that are fighting for their freedom is always the American cause,” he said.
The GOP presidential candidate visited Kyiv and three other cities and villages north of the capital city on Thursday. He also met with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and received a briefing from Ukrainian officials on the current security situation in the country, according to one of his advisers.
More context: Prigozhin was last spotted leaving the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday, after abruptly calling off his troops’ march on Moscow.
He released an audio message Monday, explaining his decision to turn his troops back. The Kremlin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on Saturday that Prigozhin agreed to leave Russia for Belarus.
Lukashenko said he brokered a deal that would see Prigozhin exiled in Belarus without facing criminal charges. According to Lukashenko, the Wagner chief arrived in Belarus Tuesday. While there are no videos or photos showing Prigozhin in Belarus, satellite imagery of an airbase outside Minsk showed two planes linked to Prigozhin landed there on Tuesday morning.
The full interview with Pence will be broadcast on Out Front with Erin Burnett at 7 p.m. ET
CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Jo Shelley, Veronica Stracqualursi, Anna Chernova and Sophie Tanno contributed to this report.