Putin’s deal with warlord shows ‘actual weakness’ amid Russia unrest: expert

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said the truce brokered between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Wagner Group is ‘evidence’ of Putin’s ‘weakness.’

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin agreed to a deal this weekend to go into exile in Belarus after he staged an apparent insurrection in which he directed an armed convoy toward Moscow. The Russian mercenary organization had been fighting for the Kremlin in the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine, but he marched toward Moscow over the weekend to demand the removal of Russian commanders, who Prigozhin says have mishandled the war.

CBS News anchor Margaret Brennan questioned Sullivan on ‘Face the Nation’ Sunday about how Belarus appears to be a power broker in the deal, considering the country is considered ‘a vassal state of Russia.’

‘Like why would Yevgeny Prigozhin move to Belarus? Why are they suddenly appearing to be power brokers?’ Brennan asked. 

‘[Belarus President Aleksandr] Lukashenko is in power now as president because of Vladimir Putin,’ Sullivan said. ‘Vladimir Putin came to his rescue in August 2020. It was Lukashenko who was dependent on Putin. But now think about this. This is, as you know, Belarus is part of a union state with Russia, they are conjoined.’

‘How dependent now is Putin on Lukashenko … it’s evidence of the weakness that this reveals what’s happened in the last three or four days, the weakness of Vladimir Putin. It’s not just an appearance of weakness, it’s actual weakness,’ Sullivan said.

‘A person that he has said is a traitor who has stabbed him and his nation in the back … he struck a deal with?’ Sullivan continued. ‘A deal that he needed to strike to avoid bloodshed and chaos. What strong leader does that?’

Prigozhin founded the mercenary group in 2014 and had been considered a close confidant of Putin in recent years. Sullivan called the Wagner Group a ‘corrupt organization’ during his CBS News appearance and cited Prigozhin’s time in prison for robbery, fraud and related charges.

‘Prigozhin himself spent most of the 1980s in prison because he’s a career criminal,’ Sullivan said.

‘Wagner operates in states in Africa and elsewhere, not because there are patriots who were executing policy on behalf of the Russian government, they’re there to get access to … gold mines, oil resources and so forth,’ he added.

‘This is a money-making organization, corrupt organization that the United States correctly treats as a transnational criminal organization.’

All in, the Wagner rebellion lasted less than 36 hours, and Prigozhin is reportedly headed to Belarus to live in exile.

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