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The head of Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service said Wednesday that Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is alive and freely "floating around" after his short-lived mutiny in Russia. Prigozhin has not been seen in public since he agreed to end Wagner's march on Moscow, though the Kremlin said later that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Prigozhin and other Wagner commanders in Moscow five days after vowing to crush Prigozhin's aborted revolt.
A few hours after MI6 chief Richard Moore said Prigozhin is alive, Wagner social media channels posted a grainy, low-light video of a man who appears to be Prigozhin talking to a large group of fighters in a site identified by The New York Times and CNN as a Belarusian base 50 miles southeast of Minsk, the capital.
The video appears to have been shot at sundown on July 18, based on flight tracking data that shows a plane used by Prigozhin landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning and taking off on a flight toward Moscow a little after noon on Wednesday.
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The Wagner revolt and Putin's actions were pretty much what they appeared, Moore said in a rare public appearance in Prague. You would expect Putin to execute or at least excommunicate Prigozhin after he "turned on him" and threatened his hold on power, but "he really didn't fight back against Prigozhin; he cut a deal to save his skin."
Putin is "is clearly under pressure," Moore said. "Prigozhin started off that day as a traitor at breakfast, he had been pardoned by supper, and then a few days later, he was invited for tea. So, there are some things that even the chief of MI6 finds a little bit difficult to try and interpret, in terms of who's in and who's out."
British foreign minister James Cleverly told the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday that regardless of "how Putin attempts to spin it, an attempted coup is never a good look." The evidence of fractures among Russia's ruling elite after the mutiny are limited, but there are "indicators that things are not well," he added.
That's putting it mildly, Russian dissident Garry Kasparov told the Renew Democracy Initiative on Monday. "Prigozhin was the tip of the spearhead. The mutiny tells us that there are very powerful forces dissenting behind Putin's back," because "the price they're paying for the war — Putin's war — looks excessive." And remarkably, Prigozhin "appears safe in Russia now," Kasparov added. "It doesn't seem that Putin is about to do anything against him. Maybe because he cannot."
Under Russian law, "Prigozhin should face prison terms of between 12 years and life," and "according to the unwritten rules of Mr. Putin's mafia state he should probably be dead," The Economist agreed. Now, no matter what happens to Prigozhin, "his mutiny has revealed the erosion of the state and the flimsiness of Mr. Putin's support base."
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