WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday insisted that Western leaders were not involved in a mutiny attempt in Russia over the weekend, speaking publicly for the first time since Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin mobilized his private military forces against Russia’s leadership.
Prigozhin led an armed insurrection that marched toward Moscow before ordering his troops to stand down on Saturday, triggering concerns over potential unrest in Russia.
Biden said he was in constant contact with U.S. allies to coordinate their response to the standoff between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prigozhin, a former close ally who runs Wagner on the battlefield in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden said U.S. and its allies, including NATO, wanted to prevent a perception that Americans had stoked the mutiny.
“They agree with me that we had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse ... to blame this on the West, to blame this on NATO,” Biden said of U.S. allies in remarks from the White House on Monday. “We made clear that we were not involved, that we had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system.”
Biden said he instructed his national security advisers to prepare for a range of scenarios, but that it was still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about the implications of the weekend’s event for Russia and Ukraine.
“The ultimate outcome of all this remains to be seen,” Biden added.
Speaking to reporters, White House spokesperson John Kirby reiterated Biden's uncertainty and said it remained unclear “where the bulk of the Wagner forces are.”
Kirby also said he did not know Prigozhin’s current whereabouts.
“We don’t know where this goes or whether this is really the end,” he added, declining to label the events over the weekend.
"We're not slapping a bumper sticker on it," he said when asked whether the White House has Prigozhin's threat as "a mutiny or attempted coup and armed rebellion."
He said Biden received “literally hour-by-hour updates from his national security team” throughout the weekend.
A White House official noted late Saturday that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense have been visible for some time, as Prigozhin publicly criticized and even threatened the Russian military on separate occasions.
Biden spoke “at length” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday about the events in Russia and reaffirmed U.S. security, economic, and humanitarian support to Kyiv, he said.
“I told him that no matter what happened in Russia — let me say it again, no matter what happened in Russia — we, the United States, would continue to support Ukraine’s defense and its sovereignty and its territorial integrity,” Biden said, adding that they agreed “to stay in constant contact.”
Biden said there was one head of state he could not reach over the weekend but would soon be speaking with and “making sure we’re on the same page.”
That leader was Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, Kirby said.
The president spoke with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom on Saturday to discuss the situation in Russia, according to the White House.
CORRECTION (June 26, 2:50 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the head of the Wagner mercenary group. He is Yevgeny Prigozhin, not Yevgeniy.