- Vladimir Putin had tea with mutiny leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, the UK’s spy chief said.
- Richard Moore said the Russian leader’s actions after the mutiny were “mysterious.”
- The June uprising was the most serious threat to Putin’s power in decades.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is “floating around” and recently went for tea with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the chief of the UK’s MI6 spy agency.
Speaking at an event in Prague in the Czech Republic, MI6 boss Sir Richard Moore discussed events in Russia since the failed June 23 uprising, when a rebellion by the Wagner Group saw mercenary fighters headed to Moscow.
In a furious video message that day, Putin branded the rebels “traitors” and pledged to punish them. However, after striking a deal with Wagner leader Prigozhin to call off the mutiny, Putin’s actions have been mysterious.
“If you look at Putin’s behaviour on that day, Prigozhin started off as a traitor at breakfast, he’d been pardoned by supper and two days later he’d been invited for tea. There are some things that even the chief of MI6 find a little difficult to try and interpret,” Sir Richard said.
Asked whether he believes Prigozhin is still alive, Sir Richard said that “as far we can tell Prigozhin is floating around,” reported Sky News.
Sky News also reported that Sir Richard said Putin had invited Prigozhin for tea “in recent days,” although it is unclear whether he was referring to the meeting made several days after the mutiny.
Prigozhin was initially believed to have taken exile in Belarus after the uprising, then reportedly resurfaced in St Petersburg to collect a stash of weapons seized from his luxury home.
Putin has in the past dealt brutally with those he deems to be traitors or critics, but in the days after the uprising he has been uncharacteristically lenient with Wagner rebels, inviting them to sign contracts with the Russian military.
Analysts have speculated that Putin is wary of alienating hardline nationalists, who are supportive of Prigozhin’s criticisms of failings by the Kremlin in the war in Ukraine, so is reluctant to punish him.
Sir Richard in the speech invited Russians opposed to the Putin regime to share their secrets with the UK, and said the rebellion “exposed the inexorable decay of the unstable autocracy over which Putin presides.”
Sir Richard, officially codenamed “C”, compared the situation in Ukraine to the Prague Spring in 1968.
“As they witness the venality, infighting and callous incompetence of their leaders … many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas as their predecessors did in 1968,” he said.
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