CIA director William Burns said America has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recruit spies for the Central Intelligence Agency thanks to an attempted coup in Russia. He said the crisis has had a “corrosive” effect on the leadership of President Vladimir Putin and Russian society more broadly.
“Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression,” Burns said during a lecture at the Ditchley Foundation. He made the remarks as the CIA released a video calling on Russian dissidents to contact the agency. The ad specifically asks military officers, intelligence specialists, diplomats, and scientists to get in touch.
The crisis in Russia began when Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the private mercenary group Wagner, pulled his troops out of Ukraine. He accused Russian forces of attacking his soldiers and vowed retribution against the Kremlin. Wagner was at the forefront of the Ukrainian invasion and captured the city of Bakhmut for Moscow after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war so far.
Despite being on the same side, Prigozhin has increased his criticisms of Russian state troops, saying they are incompetent. He also said Moscow had left his soldiers short on ammunition and other essential supplies.
Prigozhin and his fighters marched from Ukraine to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where he declared he would march on Moscow. The military leader demanded that Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov were fired.
When the group was within 125 miles of the Russian capital, they pulled back, saying a deal had been reached. Moscow’s description of this deal is simply that Prigozhin will not face retribution for his rebellion if he goes into exile in neighboring Belarus. His troops would be absorbed into the mainstream Russian army.
Commentators say it is unlikely Putin will stick to his word and not punish Prigozhin, but the incident has exposed weaknesses in Russian military capability.