CIA says Russia is a recruiting opportunity as disaffection with war rises

Mr. Burns, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008 and was appointed CIA director in 2021, cast the mutiny as an “armed challenge to the Russian State”.

July 02, 2023 05:14 am | Updated 12:30 pm IST - MOSCOW

CIA Director William Burns. File

CIA Director William Burns. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

U.S. CIA Director William Burns said on Saturday that the armed mutiny by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was a challenge to the Russian State that had shown the corrosive effect of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin this week thanked the army and security forces for averting what he said could have turned into a civil war, and has compared the mutiny to the chaos that plunged Russia into two revolutions in 1917.

For months, Mr. Prigozhin had been openly insulting Mr. Putin’s most senior military men, using a variety of crude expletives and prison slang that shocked top Russian officials but were left unanswered in public by Mr. Putin.

“It is striking that Mr. Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin’s mendacious rationale for the invasion of Ukraine and of the Russian military leadership’s conduct of the war,” Mr. Burns said in a lecture to Britain’s Ditchley Foundation - a non-profit foundation focused on U.S.-British relations - in Oxfordshire, England.

“The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time - a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin’s war on his own society and his own regime.”

Mr. Burns, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008 and was appointed CIA director in 2021, cast the mutiny as an “armed challenge to the Russian State”.

He said the mutiny was an “internal Russian affair in which the United States has had and will have no part.”

Since a deal was struck a week ago to end the mutiny, the Kremlin has sought to project calm, with the 70-year-old Putin discussing tourism development, meeting crowds in Dagestan, and discussing ideas for economic development.

Also Read | Explained: Understanding the Wagner mutiny

Russia will emerge stronger after the failed mutiny so the West need not worry about stability in the world’s biggest nuclear power, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

But Mr. Burns said that disaffection in Russia with the war in Ukraine was creating a rare opportunity to recruit spies - and the CIA was not letting it pass.

“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.

“That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at the CIA - at our core a human intelligence service. We’re not letting it go to waste.”

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