PRAGUE (CNN) – It was a rare moment when what was seen in public from the Kremlin coincided with the reality behind closed doors.
So says Richard Moore, head of MI6 in the UK, who in a rare speech in Prague gave the first Western intelligence confirmation that the head of the private military group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had indeed struck a deal with Putin to end his advance on Moscow during the failed June 24 insurrection. It appears that Putin received him in the Kremlin a few days later.
The head of MI6, known as C, also expressed some bewilderment at the uproar that followed the Kremlin over the weekend, and how quickly loyalties were rejected and returned.
Moore said on 24 June: “If you look at Putin’s behavior that day, Prigozhin started out as a traitor at breakfast. He was pardoned before dinner, and a few days later he was invited to tea. So there are some things that the head of MI6 finds it a little difficult to read, in terms of who’s in and who’s out.”
Moore also gave a rare hint about the health and whereabouts of Prigozhin himself, whose vile and repetitive audio messages posted to Telegram recently stopped. Asked by CNN if Prigozhin was “alive and well,” Moore replied that the Wagner leader was still “out there,” according to information available to his agency.
Western intelligence agencies are reticent to comment on the failed insurgency for fear of lending credit to Russia’s familiar excuse for domestic opposition: that it be organized and fueled by Western spies. Still, the on-camera speech provided an opportunity for Moore’s expressions to express how shocking the vulnerability Putin had shown over the weekend was.
“He hasn’t really taken his own stand against Prigozhin,” Moore said. “He reached an agreement to save his skin and resorted to the good offices of the leader of Belarus,” he said, referring to President Alexander Lukashenko’s intervention that sealed the deal. “So I can’t even see what’s inside Putin’s head,” he added. “He must have realized, I am sure, that there was something very rotten in the state of Denmark–in Hamlet’s words–and he had to come to this agreement.”
Moore added that it was difficult to make “firm judgments” about the fate of Wagner itself as a mercenary group, but that “they don’t appear to be involved in Ukraine” and that “there seem to be elements in Belarus”.
Moore chose Prague, which he referred to as the last European capital that Russian tanks reached before Ukraine, to deliver his speech. It began with an unusually open invitation for Russians “silently horrified to see their armed forces crush Ukrainian cities, force innocent families from their homes, and kidnap thousands of children” to spy for Britain.
“I invite you to do what others have already done for the past eighteen months and join hands with our secrets… Your secrets will always be safe with us, and together we will end the bloodshed.”
It was an unnaturally public appeal fitting the global geopolitical turmoil unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And while Moore asserted that China was “completely complicit in the invasion” due to its continued support for the Kremlin chief, he added that Iran’s support for Russia had caused division at its highest level. “It is clear that Iran wants to get as much money as possible from this situation,” he said. While Iran mostly sells drones that often strike civilian targets, he added, “It will sell whatever it has left and think it can get away with it.”
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