Anonymous US officials have pushed yet another massive claim regarding the weekend Wagner Group uprising in Russia--a claim which is being met with widespread skepticism on Wednesday, including a formal rejection from the Kremlin.
The intelligence officials told The New York Times that at the highest ranks of Russia's military command, a key general had foreknowledge that an armed Wagner uprising was coming. In particular, the report claims the top general overseeing the Ukraine operation had advanced awareness of the mutiny plot.
"A senior Russian general had advance knowledge of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plans to rebel against Russia’s military leadership, according to U.S. officials briefed on American intelligence on the matter, which has prompted questions about what support the mercenary leader had inside the top ranks," NYT wrote.
And the anon US intel officials have taken the claims even further, suggesting potential active plotting and co-conspiracy within the defense ministry. "The officials said they are trying to learn if Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the former top Russian commander in Ukraine, helped plan Mr. Prigozhin’s actions last weekend, which posed the most dramatic threat to President Vladimir V. Putin in his 23 years in power," said the report.
One initial and obvious inconsistency to this narrative is that Prigozhin has for months heaped negative statements and scorn not only on Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, but his invectives have targeted Gen. Surovikin and the entire top command ranks as well.
It's kind of sad to see the times just launder these types of stories for the IC without any sort of skepticism. I don't really read their natsec stuff unless I'm interested in what the DCI wants the public to know about. https://t.co/NVXocgRUaF— Jack Murphy (@JackMurphyRGR) June 28, 2023
Within hours after initial publication Wednesday morning, the Times report pinned the following statement to the top of its report:
After this article was published, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, issued a curt response and insisted on Wednesday that Russia’s army and people had unified around Mr. Putin.
For many Ukraine war observers, there are immediate red flags regarding the fresh claims, as it seems a deliberate attempt of US intelligence to sow distrust, paranoia, and further discord in the Kremlin.
Assuming this is US intel officials' intent, is it working? Financial Times correspondent Max Seddon has highlighted reports that Surovikin's whereabouts are unknown...
Analyst Mark Galeotti points out the following, and explains the cause for skepticism in the wake of the US intelligence community's (IC) claims...
"The New York Times, which often feels like the US intel community's PR agency, is reporting that the IC suspects Gen Surovikin knew in advance about Prigozhin's mutiny. Maybe so, but were I a cynic I'd wonder if this was an info op because Surovikin quickly issued a public appeal to Wagner mercs to stand down, making a clear statement that - contrary to previous suspicions he was close to Prigozhin - he was loyal to the Kremlin."
"This might have helped cleanse his record and make him eligible to be re-appointed overall commander in Ukraine or even made Chief of the General Staff after Gerasimov (he had been the front-runner). This would, let's be honest, not have been good for Ukraine: Surovikin is not a nice man but he is a dangerously competent general. As I say, this is just speculation, but suggesting complicity with Prigozhin's treachery - to use Putin's words - would seem a good way of helping derail his return."