What to know about the situation in Russia
- Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered his forces to turn back from their march on Moscow, saying he was abandoning the armed rebellion to avoid bloodshed.
- The Kremlin said Prigozhin would leave Russia for neighbor and ally Belarus while avoiding criminal charges along with his fighters despite the revolt.
- Senior Biden administration officials were briefed on intelligence indicating that Prigozhin was considering a challenge on Wednesday, June 21, and that “alarm bells” started going off more intensely early in the day Friday, a U.S. official told NBC News.
- President Vladimir Putin had accused Prigozhin of "treason" and vowed to crush the growing armed rebellion. The stunning conclusion to the crisis will leave questions about the Russian leader's authority.
Gang of Eight briefed on the situation in Russia last week
The key congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight were briefed last week on the situation in Russia, a source confirmed today.
The Gang of Eight are Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chair Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and ranking member Jim Himes, D-Conn.
U.S. intelligence agencies collected information showing Prigozhin had been planning a challenge to Russia’s senior military leaders, a source familiar with the matter said.
U.S. spy agencies observed the Wagner Group amassing forces and weapons, and detected other indications that Prigozhin was poised to make a move, the source said, although the intelligence was not definitive.
Biden gave no public statement on armed rebellion over concerns with Putin, official says
Biden has not given a public statement in response to the armed rebellion, in the belief that Putin would point to any statement as proof that the White House was orchestrating the uprising in Russia, a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk freely.
Zelenskyy says he had a 'positive' conversation with Biden about Russia
President Joe Biden has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone about Russia, according to a White House official.
Zelenskyy tweeted that he had a "positive and inspiring conversation" with Biden in which they discussed the "course of hostilities and the processes taking place in Russia."
"We discussed further expansion of defense cooperation, with an emphasis on long-range weapons," he said, adding that the two also talked about the implementation of the Ukraine peace formula and preparations for the Global Peace Summit.
Biden also reaffirmed America's unwavering support for Ukraine on the call Sunday, including through continued security, economic and humanitarian aid, the White House said in a statement.
Ukrainian defense minister says he has spoken to Austin about Russia
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Sunday that he has spoken to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the rebellion in Russia.
Reznikov tweeted that he and Austin agreed that Moscow authorities were "weak" and that Russia's pulling its troops from Ukraine would be "the best choice" for the Kremlin.
He said they also discussed Ukraine's "counteroffensive and the next steps in strengthening our defense forces."
"Things are moving in the right direction," Reznikov said. "Ukraine will win."
Schumer: 'No evidence of any more motion' by Wagner group
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that he was briefed this morning on the situation in Russia and that “there is no evidence of any more motion” by the Wagner Group after it turned back from its march on Moscow.
“The Wagner Group has stopped, and they have signed an agreement,” he said at an event about electric bicycles with New York Mayor Eric Adams and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “There is no evidence of any more motion. They were about 150 miles from Moscow when they stopped.”
The mercenaries “did not get much resistance” on the road to Moscow, he said.
“The head of the Wagner Group thought that he’d get a lot of support from Russian dissidents, Russian armed forces ... and may not have, but that remains just speculation,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what happened yet.”
John Sullivan: Deal between Russia and Wagner Group is 'evidence' of Putin's weakness
John Sullivan, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said the deal Belarus helped broker between Prigozhin and Russia’s government is “evidence" of Putin's weakness.
“Belarus is part of a union state with Russia; they are conjoined. How dependent now is Putin on Lukashenko?" he said, referring to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
"It’s evidence of the weakness that this reveals, what’s happened in the last three or four days, the weakness of Vladimir Putin,” he said. “It’s not just an appearance of weakness — it’s actual weakness.
House Intel chair: Conflict between Prigozhin and Putin was 'inevitable'
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, said the panel was “very much aware” that the rebellion could occur after it was briefed by Biden administration officials in recent days.
Asked to describe the intelligence the U.S. had about the mercenary forces’ march on Moscow, Turner said in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that the conflict between Prigozhin and Putin was “inevitable,” citing Prigozhin’s harsh criticisms of Russia's conventional forces
Turner also questioned Putin's grasp on his own military: “For any government to have stability, they have to control their military. Obviously, Prigozhin, in order to make it that distance, has to have accomplices.
“Where was the air force? Where was the Russian air force in preventing this?" he asked.
Klobuchar: U.S. should encourage 'openness to nuclear discussions and nuclear safety'
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the best thing the U.S. could do in response to the mercenary revolt in Russia would be to encourage “continuing openness to nuclear discussions and nuclear safety.”
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “assured us that there hasn’t been any change in that right now when it comes to Russia,” she said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
It’s also important for the U.S. to continue supporting Ukraine, Klobuchar said. “Vladimir Putin has bitten off a lot more than he ever thought possible when he marched into Ukraine."
Rep. McCaul: Halted Wagner rebellion made Putin look 'weak'
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the halted Wagner rebellion made Putin be "viewed as weak."
"He’s been very strong for three decades, and this has been the first time the veneer of invincibility — he just seemed to be the strong man. Now he’s viewed as weak," McCaul said in an interview with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo.
McCaul also said the "internal insurrection" made Putin "look like he can’t control his own army and his own people," weakening his "stature as the counteroffensive in Ukraine is going forward."
Meet the inside man who shook the Kremlin
The Wagner mercenary group chief now appears to have abandoned that rebellion for exile in Belarus, in a deal that leaves more questions than answers.
“Prigozhin would be naive to think this is over,” Michael A. Horowitz, a geopolitical and security analyst who is the head of intelligence at Le Beck consultancy, told NBC News.
Here’s a look at the man behind Russia’s biggest insurrection in its post-Soviet history, who went from prison to leading a military revolt that got within a hundred or so miles of Moscow.
Who knows what’s next.
Russian banks to reopen Monday despite promise of day off
Banks, financial institutions and the stock exchange are expected to operate as usual on Monday, Russia’s central bank said Sunday, despite Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin having declared it a day off as Wagner paramilitary forces neared the city.
“Despite today being a nonworking day in Moscow, financial institutions must continue to perform their key functions,” the Bank of Russia said in a post on its Telegram channel.
It added that it would also perform “all its functions as usual.”
GOP Rep. Bacon: Armed rebellion weakened Russia for 'maybe a decade'
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he believes the armed rebellion against Moscow’s military could have weakened Russia for "a decade to come" in an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
Bacon, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said the effort is “good for the Baltics countries ... and it would be different if Putin was wanting to be a peaceful neighbor, but he’s not.”
Bacon argued that there’s a “moral obligation” to help Ukraine and called out Republicans who “have tried to stay under the radar” on Russia’s aggression against the country.
“We get peace through strength, and we got to stand up and help out the little guy that’s been beat up by the big guy,” he said.
Analyst says rebellion will 'put pressure on Putin' for gains in Ukraine
Yevgeny Prigozhin's stunning challenge to Vladimir Putin's authority will "put pressure" on the Russian leader to rack up "successes" in Ukraine, particularly if the Kremlin stands by two key military leaders, said Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The head of the Wagner mercenary group for months has been "railing against" Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff — yet "Putin keeps them in place," O'Brien wrote in an email Sunday.
"It makes Putin even more personally responsible for the running of the war" in Ukraine, O'Brien said.
Wagner-Russian MOD tensions 'increased significantly' in past weeks: U.S. official
Tensions between the Wagner mercenary group and the Russian Ministry of Defense were no secret, but escalatory signs had “increased significantly” in the past few weeks, a U.S. official told NBC News.
Senior Biden administration officials were briefed on intelligence indicating Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin was considering a challenge on Wednesday June 21, and “alarm bells” started going off more intensely early in the day on Friday, the official says.
This information was earlier reported by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CNN.
Blinken: Russia ‘cracks emerge’ by ‘mercenaries of its own making’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. has seen “more cracks emerge in the Russian facade” after mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin posed a “direct challenge to Putin’s authority” in his rebellion against Moscow’s military.
Following an armed revolt against Russia that lasted less than 36 hours, Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group that had long been at odds with Vladimir Putin’s military forces, on Saturday ordered his troops to turn back from their march on Moscow, abandoning their rebellion to avoid bloodshed.
In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Blinken said that “what we’ve seen is Russia having to defend Moscow, its capital, against mercenaries of its own making,” adding that “in and of itself, that’s extraordinary.”
“We’ve also seen rise to the surface profound questions about the very premises for this Russian aggression against Ukraine that Prigozhin surfaced very publicly, as well as a direct challenge to Putin’s authority,” he said.
Blinken added: “So I think we’ve seen more cracks emerge in the the Russian facade. It is too soon to tell exactly where they go, and when they get there, but certainly we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead.”
Putin says he has confidence in Russia's defense in pre-recorded clip
President Vladimir Putin said his plans for Ukraine constantly occupied his “undivided attention,” in an interview aired on state television Sunday that appeared to have been recorded prior to Saturday’s botched rebellion.
Putin said he felt confident about “the defense of our country, carrying out the special operation and our economy: both in general and for particular branches.”
Regarding managing his “special military operation", he said “you have to do it 24 hours a day. There is no other way.”
With references to meetings that took place on Wednesday, two days prior to the rebellion led by Putin's one-time ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, the short interview on Rossiya state television made no reference to the Wagner group or to any specific plans for Ukraine.
Ex-army chief: Mutiny is a 'moment of opportunity' for Ukraine
The Ukrainian military should keep a close eye on its northern border with Belarus in case Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was heading to the country, launched an attack from there, the former head of Britain’s army said Sunday.
“I would certainly want to make sure that I have good observation to the north on the access down from Belarus towards Kyiv,” Gen. Richard Dannatt told Sky News. While the last time Russian forces attempted this sort of assault it proved “disastrous,” Ukraine ought to “watch that flank very carefully,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ukraine should take advantage of the disarray that the Prigozhin-led mutiny caused to continue “probing attacks along the Russian defensive line” and discover where to deploy highly skilled and Western-trained attack brigades, he added.
“This is a moment of opportunity for the Ukrainians,” Dannatt said.
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia: Putin faces biggest challenge of his presidency
Wagner group planned to challenge Russia military leaders, source says
U.S. intelligence agencies collected information that Prigozhin had been planning to challenge to Russia’s senior military leaders and briefed congressional leaders about it last week, a source familiar with the matter said.
U.S. spy agencies observed the Wagner Group amassing forces and weapons — and detected other indications that Prigozhin was poised to make a move — the source said, although the intelligence wasn’t definitive.
The information was reported earlier by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CNN.
Crowds return to downtown Moscow
There was little sign in Moscow today of the counterterrorism alert that was introduced after Prigozhin launched his revolt and nominally remained in place.
Crowds swarmed downtown Moscow on a sunny day, and street cafes were packed with customers. Traffic had returned to normal, and roadblocks and checkpoints were removed.
The “counterterrorist regime” authorities declared in Moscow and its surroundings allowed restrictions on freedoms and enhanced security.
Anchors on state-controlled television stations cast the deal ending the crisis as a show of Putin’s wisdom and aired video of the Wagner Group’s troops retreating from Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. People in Rostov-on-Don who were interviewed by Channel 1 television hailed Putin for defusing the crisis.
Top Russian diplomat meets with China following aborted rebellion
A top Russian diplomat flew to Beijing for talks with the Chinese government today, a day after Prigozhin's rebellion fizzled out.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andrei Rudenko met with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang to discuss “international and regional issues of common concern,” the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a one-line statement on its website.
China has not officially commented on the crisis in Russia.
Russia and China have maintained close ties throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has refused to condemn.
Analyst: Prigozhin is unsafe in Belarus
Prigozhin has “cornered himself” by going either too far or not far enough in his attempted rebellion against the Kremlin, according to Michael Horowitz, an expert on Russia at Le Beck International, a Middle East security consultancy.
Prigozhin would be “naive to think this is over” and remains unsafe in Belarus, despite his trust in Lukashenko, Horowitz said in an email.
“If he lays low, he may still end up drinking poisoned tea, and if he is too loud, he will become even more of a liability for Moscow,” he said.
Horowitz said Prigozhin would most likely return to Ukraine, where he could operate with “relative freedom” among men he knows are loyal to him.
Wagner fighters leave the Lipetsk region
Wagner fighters have left Russia's Lipetsk, the region's official Telegram channel said.
“Units of PMC ‘Wagner,’ which stopped the day before in the Lipetsk region, have now left the territory of the region,” the update today said.
Lipetsk, 290 miles south of Moscow, is between Moscow and Rostov-on-Don, the city Wagner occupied late Friday.
Belarusian president is 'Putin’s puppet,' exiled opposition leader says
A prominent Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate has called her country’s leader “Putin’s puppet” after he helped to broker a deal between Prigozhin and Russia’s government.
Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, who has been living in exile since she challenged Alexander Lukashenko for her country's top job, said on Twitter that the events in Russia showed “that the evil which you unleash on others will come back to your own territory.”
She said Lukashenko, who is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” had “proved that he is Putin’s puppet.”
Putin’s rule is now more uncertain than ever
The mercenaries’ march to Moscow may have ended, but the short-lived armed rebellion has exposed deep weaknesses inside the Kremlin and undermined Putin’s 23-year rule as never before.
The crisis was unprecedented in Russia’s modern history, and it may forever tarnish the image of the country’s strongman president, analysts said. With the authoritarian veneer besmirched by the consequences of his own war in Ukraine and two decades of a divide-and-rule approach, it’s unclear what’s next for Putin.
“This is a devastating blow to Putin’s image as a strongman,” said Bill Browder, the U.S.-born human rights lawyer and leading Putin critic. “If a warlord with just 25,000 men is able to take over several cities in Russia and make it to Moscow unopposed, it shows that Putin’s authority as a dictator is completely fake.”
Michael McFaul, who was the U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration, agreed that even this fleeting display of insubordination would gravely hurt Putin.
Wagner fighters leave Voronezh region, governor says
Wagner fighters began leaving Russia’s southern Voronezh region Sunday, the regional governor said in a Telegram post.
“It is going steady and without incident,” Alexander Gusev said. “Once the situation is finally resolved, we will remove the restrictions imposed,” he added.
North Korea supports 'any choice' made by Russia to deal with Wagner
North Korea’s vice foreign minister told his country's Russian ambassador that he supported any decision by the Kremlin to deal with the Wagner mutiny, North Korean state media reported today.
Lim Chun-il “expressed firm belief that the recent armed rebellion in Russia would be successfully put down in conformity with the aspiration and will of the Russian people,” the KCNA news agency reported.
KCNA added that he also reaffirmed North Korean support of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine to Alexander Matsegora.
At least 5 dead in Kyiv rocket attack
At least five people were killed when the fragments of a Russian rocket hit a house in Kyiv early Sunday, the Ukrainian capital's mayor said in a Telegram post.
Vitaliy Klitschko said two victims were pulled from the rubble of the home in the Solomianskyi district, a busy transport hub, in the early hours of the morning.
He added that rescuers were still working at the scene.
NBC News could not independently verify his claims.
Chechnya's 'Akhmat' fighters return to Ukraine after offer to quell rebellion
Chechen Akhmat battalion fighters are pulling out of Rostov, where they deployed yesterday to defend against a rebellion by Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries, state media reported today.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, said on Telegram that the unit’s fighters were sent to Rostov-on-Don “in order to take the situation under control if necessary,” according to the Tass news agency.
The Chechen government has been outspoken in its support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
And the Akhmat special fighters, who operate under Kadyrov’s personal command, have played key roles in battles like the siege of Mariupol from February to May 2022.
Analysis: Is the rebellion really over?
The morning after the Wagner Group’s aborted rebellion, many questions still hang over Russia. Chief among them: Is this really over?
It does appear that the immediate crisis has subsided. Wagner mercenary fighters halted their advance on Moscow and, according to the local governor, have left the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. And after a stream of real-time updates through his Telegram channel, Prigozhin has now gone silent.
But it’s hard to believe that his power struggle with Putin is now quietly resolved — especially given what we know about both men.
Prigozhin is supposed to head into exile in Belarus. But is a man of his swaggering ambition going to accept a sleepy retirement? Just 24 hours earlier he felt emboldened enough to challenge the power of the Russian state. And don’t forget — he was cheered as a folk hero by people on the streets of Rostov-on-Don, which may inflate his ego further.
As for Putin, he is not a man known to let bygones be bygones. In a 2018 interview, he was asked whether there was any sin impossible to forgive. “Betrayal,” he replied. His critics and enemies often turn up dead — both inside Russia and abroad.
Prigozhin is now responsible for the single most brazen challenge to Putin’s authority in his two decades as president. He is likely to sleep with one eye open for many years to come.
China and Russia discuss 'issues of common concern'
Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andrei Rudenko discussed “international and regional issues of common concern” with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang today, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a one-line statement.
At a meeting in Beijing, the pair also talked about Sino-Russian relations, the statement said,
It was not clear when Rudenko arrived in Beijing or whether his visit to China, a key ally of Russia, was in response to the apparent Wagner rebellion Friday.
Blinken discusses 'ongoing situation in Russia' with Polish FM
Blinken discussed the “ongoing situation in Russia” with Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Zbigniew Rau, a State Department spokesperson said.
In their telephone conversation, Blinken welcomed Poland’s “sustained assistance to Ukraine and its people and underscored that U.S. support to Ukraine will not change,” Matthew Miller said.
Rostov mayor complains Wagner forces damaged roads
Military vehicles used when Wagner Group mercenaries marched into Rostov-on-Don damaged a number roads, the city's mayor told state media today.
Alexei Logvinenko said more than 10,000 square meters (12,000 square yards) of roadways were in need of repair in a post on Telegram alongside pictures of the damage.
Budennovsky Avenue, a large, historic road in the city's center leading to the river Don, was the road most damaged by the group, he said, adding that repairs would begin today.
Traffic restrictions remain on major highway linking Moscow to south
Traffic restrictions remain on a major highway in Moscow and the Tula region, Russia’s federal road agency, Avtodor, told state media today.
The M-4 “Don” connects Moscow to Russia’s southern regions, and travel from the Russian capital and the Lipetsk region was temporarily limited.
Avtodor advised drivers to avoid the M-4 yesterday amid reports that convoys of Wagner fighters were using it.
Ukraine targets city taken where Wagner Group aided Russian victory
Ukraine's military said yesterday that it had made advances near Bakhmut, the eastern city where Wagner forces helped deliver a badly needed victory for Putin last month.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported “progress in all directions” in a post on Telegram. She said her country's forces had launched offensives in a ring of villages surrounding the city.
Russian forces first tried to take Bakhmut in August and became increasingly dependent on Wagner forces to maintain ground in the invasion's longest and bloodiest battle.
Several helicopters downed during uprising, Russian media reports
Wagner troops downed several helicopters and a military communications plane, Russian media reported last night.
Prigozhin previously said his forces had taken control of the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, as well as other military facilities in the city, without any deaths or even “a single gunshot.”
The Kremlin referred the question about the losses to the Defense Ministry, which has not commented on the matter.
Putin weakened despite end of rebellion, former U.S. ambassador to Russia says
President Vladimir Putin appeared relatively unscathed after a failed attempt to upend Russia’s military, but a former U.S. ambassador to Russia said he may never be the same.
Win or lose, the attempt by Yevgeny Prigozhin to change military leadership to his liking would have likely resulted in Putin's remaining as the country’s top leader, said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama adminstration.
Nonetheless, the attempted coup watched around the world left the leader with less power, McFaul said yesterday on "NBC Nightly News."
“I don’t think he’s mortally weakened,” said McFaul, who was also an Obama adviser who specialized in Russia. “I think he can survive this. But he is much weaker today than he was just 24 hours ago.”
Blinken assures Ukraine’s foreign minister U.S. support is steady
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Ukraine’s foreign minister that America’s support for his nation was unwavering.
Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba yesterday about the aftermath of the Wagner rebellion.
The repercussions of the apparent retreat for Ukraine weren’t clear, but Blinken’s spokesperson, Matthew Miller, reiterated that the U.S., Ukraine’s biggest underwriter during the war, will remain undeterred.
“Support by the United States for Ukraine will not change,” Miller said. “The United States will stay in close coordination with Ukraine as the situation develops.”