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The US and its allies consulted but moved cautiously as the Russian crisis unfolded

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The United States and its allies held close consultations but remained publicly on the sidelines Saturday as officials waited to see how an armed rebellion by longtime Kremlin insider Yevgeny Prigozhin and his private Wagner army would unfold.

As rebel forces threatened to advance on Moscow and then announced a stunning retreat, US officials carefully avoided direct comment on what some said was an “internal” situation in Russia, while Moscow warned them to stay out of the fray.

US President Joe Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain amid concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip on the nuclear-armed nation could loosen.

A White House statement on their conversation said they discussed the “situation in Russia,” which erupted Friday after Prigozhin called in the Russian Defense Ministry, seized control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and sent an armed convoy toward Moscow. . — before announcing his surprise on Saturday.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held a telephone conversation with his counterparts from Western Europe and Japan, with the partners pledging to “remain in close coordination,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said after the conversation.

Blinken reiterated in the conversation that US support for Ukraine “will not change,” Miller added.

EU Foreign Minister Josep Borel avoided direct comments on what he called Russia’s “internal” issue.

But he said he had activated the EU’s crisis response center and was coordinating officials in the bloc ahead of Monday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting.

“Our support for Ukraine continues,” he added.

“Gift” for Ukraine

But more than that, the officials were silent, although they were clearly watching what would happen in Russia’s most serious security crisis in decades.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with top U.S. security officials earlier Saturday on the Moscow crisis, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes and CIA Director by William Burns.

A US military source said that US officials need to be careful with their words, noting that they do not want to give Putin or others a reason to blame the situation on Washington.

Moscow issued a stern warning to the US and its allies to hold back.

“The uprising plays into the hands of Russia’s external enemies,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“We warn Western countries against any hints of possible use of the internal Russian situation to achieve their Russophobic goals,” the message reads.

Meanwhile, Moscow’s ally Belarus called the uprising a “gift” to the West.

This opinion was echoed by Kyiv, where Deputy Minister of Defense Anna Malyar called the uprising a “window of opportunity” for the armed forces of Ukraine.

Analysts agreed with James Nixey, a Russia expert at London-based think tank Chatham House, who told AFP that Ukraine is likely to try to take advantage of the situation.

Nuclear weapons

Western allies have also been looking to see whether unrest inside Russia would bring any benefits to Ukraine as it continues its counteroffensive against encroaching Russian forces in the country’s east and south.

A member of Wagner's group sits on a tank in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city captured by a private military group on June 24, 2023

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny told his American colleague Mili that there will be no termination of the Ukrainian campaign.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive “is going according to plan,” he said.

The key problem, experts say, is that Prigozhin’s rebel forces will try to gain control of any of Russia’s nuclear weapons, especially tactical nuclear weapons.

“This is a new danger, and it’s exactly what politicians fear most, a nuclear weapons scenario,” wrote Alexander Vindman, a former White House National Security Council expert on Russia and Eastern Europe.

“This fear has plagued American politicians since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said.

The White House did not respond to a question about whether there had been any communication with Moscow about the security of its nuclear weapons.

Nixey said that while things remain in flux, the West should not look to Prigozhin as some kind of hero or count on the Russian elite to turn away from Putin and turn to him.

Privately, many Russians may consider Putin’s war against Ukraine a “terrible mistake,” he said.

But “this does not mean supporting Prigozhin because of his self-made nature,” Nixey told AFP.

As for Kiev, according to him, Prigozhin’s uprising does not mean the end of their struggle.

“While it’s a useful distraction for the Ukrainians right now — and they’ll be pleased that it’s happened, and they’ll be looking to use it on the front lines — he’s not their knight in shining armor.”

Originally published on France24

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