Trump Says Wagner Group Mutiny ‘Somewhat Weakened’ Putin

Trump Says Wagner Group Mutiny ‘Somewhat Weakened’ Putin
Russian police officers are seen, reflected on a window, as they patrol in an area outside PMC Wagner Centre in Saint Petersburg, on June 24, 2023. (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump said a brief military mutiny by Russia’s Wagner Group private military force put Russian President Vladimir Putin on a less stable footing in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

“You could say that [Putin is] still there, he’s still strong, but he certainly has been I would say somewhat weakened at least in the minds of a lot of people,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

The Wagner Group is an extralegal private military force that has enjoyed the sanction and financial support of the Russian government under Putin. Throughout its history, the Wagner Group has fought in conflicts alongside regular Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has appeared to open a rift between Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia’s official military leadership, with the private military leader accusing Russian officers and defense officials of corruption and incompetence. This apparent rift culminated in Prigozhin calling for a mutiny on June 23 and marching his Wagner forces toward the Russian capital city of Moscow, causing bloodshed between Wagner forces and the Russian military before Prigozhin reached a deal to call off the march.

In all, the mutiny lasted about a day, but it has already led some global observers like U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to interpret the internal conflict as a sign of instability and weakness in the Russian state. Zelenskyy said the mutiny “exposed the weakness of Putin’s regime.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov claimed he and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also discussed the mutiny and both concluded that Russian authorities are weakened.

“Things are moving in the right direction. Ukraine will win,” Reznikov added.

While agreeing that the Wagner mutiny could have undermined Putin’s grip on power, Trump warned that Putin losing control of the Russian government may not bring about a simple resolution to the war in Ukraine.

“You don’t know what the alternative is. It could be better, but it could be far worse,” Trump told Reuters on Thursday.

How To End The War

Trump, who is currently leading Republican presidential primary polls for 2024, is among a number of 2024 candidates prioritizing a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine over continuing to arm and enable Ukrainian forces to keep fighting.

“I think the biggest thing that the U.S. should be doing right now is making peace—getting Russia and Ukraine together and making peace. You can do it,” Trump said Thursday. “This is the time to do it, to get the two parties together to force peace.”

Describing how he would make a peace deal happen as president, Trump did not rule out the possibility of the Ukrainian government ceding some of its territory. Russia currently controls a swathe of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

Ukraine and Russia have been in a simmering conflict since 2014, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power. Yanukovych was on generally friendly terms with neighboring Russia, and pro-Russian Ukrainians in the eastern Donbas region sought to separate from Ukraine with support from Russia. Forces of the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian government have been involved in low-level fighting in the Donbas region since then. Putin cited a need to protect these pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as part of his reason for invading Ukraine in February of last year. Prior to Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine had also given Russia access to the Crimean port of Sevastopol. After Yanukovych’s ouster, Russian forces annexed Crimea with relatively minimal resistance.

Trump said everything would be “subject to negotiation” if he were president, but also said the vigorous fighting of the Ukrainian side has “earned a lot of credit.”

In a recent interview with NBC News, Zelenskyy said he is worried about statements of diminished support for Ukraine from some U.S. presidential candidates and raised the prospect of Russian forces being able to seize territory beyond Ukraine if his government doesn’t continue to receive enough international support.

Biden’s administration has insisted it will continue to support Ukrainian forces until they can achieve battlefield successes that would give the Ukrainian government a favorable position in any potential peace deal with Russia. In a June 2 speech in Finland, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “a cease-fire that simply freezes current lines in place” and lets Putin “consolidate control over the territory he has seized, and rest, rearm, and re-attack—that is not a just and lasting peace.”

By contrast, Trump told Reuters, “I want people to stop dying over this ridiculous war.”

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