President Joe Biden Says the U.S. and Its Allies Had Nothing to do With Wagner Group’s Rebellion Against Russia

On Monday, President Joe Biden sought to distance the U.S. from the weekend rebellion in Russia and insisted in his first public remarks since the episode that the West didn’t have anything to do with the mutiny.

When speaking from the White House, President Biden suggested it was too early to say how the situation would unfold moving forward. After conferring in a Sunday phone call, he said he would speak again with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to coordinate their response. 

“It’s still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going,” the president said in the East Room. “The ultimate outcome of all this remains to be seen, but no matter what comes next, I will keep making sure that our allies and our partners are closely aligned in how we are reading and responding to the situation.”

The president’s statement reflected a carefully calibrated American response to the brief uprising by the Wagner Group that amounted to the most substantial threat in years to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the weekend, President Biden remained silent on the unfolding events in Russia. Saturday, he consulted with European allies by telephone before traveling to Camp David with Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser.

In his remarks on Monday, the president laid out the thinking behind his approach, which some members of the GOP have criticized as overly cautious.

“We had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse to blame this on the West or to blame this on NATO. We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system,” said Biden.

American allies in Europe were in agreement with the strategy, said Biden. He spoke with leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada over the weekend and planned to talk with the Italian prime minister on Monday. 

Biden’s statements echo those of his administration

Biden’s comments echo statements that his administration has made behind the scenes and publicly in the days since the Wagner Group left its positions in Ukraine in an apparent march toward Moscow. CNN reported the administration quickly sent messages to the government of Russia that the United States would not get involved in the incident. 

Earlier on Monday, a spokesman for the National Security Council said the U.S. was not involved in the rebellion in Russia after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian special services were investigating whether or not intelligence services in the West were involved in the revolt.

While the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had turned his forces around before reaching Moscow in an apparent deal with the Kremlin that was brokered by the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, Biden said it’s still unclear what is happening in Russia. 

“We’re going to keep assessing the fallout of this weekend’s events and the implications for Russia and Ukraine,” said Biden. 

The president continued speaking with his national security aides Monday as they continued to process the consequences of the rebellion. 

The White House refused to speculate on the future of the Wagner group after the weekend’s events in Russia. 

“It’s just too soon to know,” said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, to reporters when asked about broader implications for Wagner’s ability and power inside Ukraine and as a fighting force.

Kirby additionally took the opportunity to reiterate the administration’s continued support for Ukraine in its continuing effort to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. 

“As we’re speaking here, right now, Ukrainian forces are still fighting for their country, they’re still trying to claw back captured territory…and they’re still inflicting casualties,” said Kirby. “So, whatever occurred in Russia this past weekend did not change those facts — didn’t change the facts for us, didn’t change those facts for Ukraine, they absolutely are not going to change our continued support.”