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Two Months Before Wagner "Mutiny," FBI Director Announces Intent to Destabilize Russia
“We made clear that we were not involved. Had nothing to do with it.”
That was Joe Biden on June 26, addressing himself to the strange series of events that had just transpired in Russia. Two days earlier, aggrieved culinary warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin and his merry for-profit band of Wagner Group fighters had been persuaded to abort their haphazard “armed rebellion,” as Vladimir Putin described it — but not before they effortlessly seized the Russian Defense Ministry, then advanced unimpeded to the perimeter of Moscow.
Biden kept his lips sealed for a while at first, then wobbled out to read a prepared statement from the East Room of the White House. With no discernible prompting, he insisted the US was absolutely “not involved” in that whole situation over there in Russia. “Nothing to do with it,” Biden said, declining to specify on what grounds it might have been alleged that the US did in fact have “something to do” with the ordeal.
In the two weeks since Biden offered this unusual assurance, a deceptively simple question has yet to be asked or answered: Did a single other world leader make a special point to declare they were NOT, and I repeat NOT, involved in any way at all with the turmoil going on in Russia? Or was it Biden alone who did this? Because if he and only he felt obliged to disclaim any role in what appeared to at least have the potential of becoming a regime-threatening development for Russia — the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, lest it be forgotten — this might raise the further question of why no one else apparently felt obliged to issue such a disclaimer.
There’s still much that remains hazy about the Prigozhin affair, but one thing we do know is that the Biden Administration wanted to be absolutely sure everyone knew the US had nothing to do with anything. Even though it wasn’t clear who they were suggesting had claimed anything to the contrary. And so the mystery of this “I didn’t do the thing you haven’t accused me of doing” tactic could remain unsolved for some time. But to watchful eyes, clues may still be discerned.
Take these previously unreported remarks made by Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, on April 5, 2023, at Texas A&M University. Asked to describe US war objectives in Ukraine, the Director confided: “There are a lot of Russians, including Russian intelligence service folks, who aren’t too happy.”
The crowd’s ears surely perked up at that point, brimming as it was with Texas A&M faculty, administrators, and various ancillary bigshots who boasted some association or another with US security state agencies.
“Unhappy Russian intelligence officers is an opportunity for us to recruit some people,” said Wray, cool calm and collected as ever, perhaps with a slight playful smirk. “We want those unhappy Russians to know we’d love to talk to them, and they could maybe have a role in changing the course of history.” According to a Texas A&M staffer, in a break with normal university practice, the FBI politely requested no audio or video be recorded of the Director’s event.
A transcript eventually posted on the FBI’s website omits major portions of Wray’s remarks, including the quotes cited above, as well as Wray’s wider statement of belief that “the war ain’t going so hot for the Russians.” This could prove a wonderful opportunity for the US, Wray argued. Which makes it all the more strange that the FBI would move to curtail public knowledge of their Russia-related activities, including whatever “history-changing” course of action Wray had in mind for all those kindly “folks” in the Russian intelligence service whom he vowed to welcome with open arms at the FBI. (How this squares with Biden leaping to refute allegations no one leveled yet — that the US had “something to do with” Russia’s domestic turmoil — is anyone’s guess.)
Wray’s comments reflect a trend of increasingly unapologetic declarations from US officials to foment, catalyze, facilitate, or otherwise bring about regime destabilization in Russia. It is imperative that Russia be “weakened,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on April 10, 2022. This was followed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said on April 25, 2022, “We want to see Russia weakened.” Then on July 27, 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated satisfaction at the progress of US policy, which he said already by that point had “weakened Russia profoundly.”
Not to be outdone, Vice President Kamala Harris lifted her voice on February 18, 2023 and shouted out, “Russia is weakened.” And then finally Joe Biden, on June 28, 2023, asked if Putin had been “weakened by what happened in Russia,” said: “Absolutely… I know he was.” Unfortunately for those who might’ve been curious how Biden purported to “know” such a thing with such certainty, none of the journalists on hand attempted to elicit any elaboration.
One need only look at the broad directional sweep of US policy in Ukraine to verify the objective being articulated. “As the war in Ukraine grinds on, the United States will seek to exploit the opportunity to weaken and undermine Russia,” a report by the United States Military Academy concluded last year. Putin himself may have brought this full circle when he denounced the Wagner rebels for conspiring to “weaken” Russia — a rare instance of terminological agreement between US and Russian leadership.
It’s unclear how these regular prideful statements of US officials touting their phenomenal success at “weakening Russia” are meant to coexist with repeated assurances from other US officials that the Wagner affair was purely a Russian “internal matter.” Especially given the strong professed interest in Russia’s internal matters by FBI Director Wray. (While arguably counter-intuitive for a domestic law enforcement agency, the FBI has institutionally pledged its determination to “stand against Russia at home and abroad.”)
Whatever the intended message of Biden’s preemptively choreographed denial, a robust bipartisan consensus has emerged to embrace the happy inference that US policy deserves all the credit for depleting and “weakening” Russia’s state capacity, such that a convoy of dubious mutineers were even in the position to seize the Ministry of Defense with no resistance, then march obstacle-free up the highway to Moscow. “America’s support, along with our allies in NATO, of Ukraine, has done a great deal to cause what we’re seeing right now in Russia,” Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie exulted that first action-filled weekend. If he’s striving for maximum clarity however, Christie might consider swapping out the words “America’s support” for “America’s facilitation of Ukraine’s entire war effort, expressly with the aim of degrading the state capacity of Russia.” (Although “support” does come across simpler and more generous-sounding.)
Another note of possible context for interpreting the US response to Russia’s reputedly “internal matter” — for well over a year and a half now, the Biden Administration has been conducting what was characterized by Ken Dilanian of NBC News as an unremitting and “unprecedented” campaign of “information war against Russia.” Dilanian’s April 2022 report, drawn from his ever-trusted Intelligence Community associates, never seemed to quite get the attention it deserved, despite the journalist’s best efforts to convey the grandeur of US tradecraft. “We’ve never seen this level of information warfare before from the US Government,” a starry-eyed Dilanian relayed. Among other things, as he recounted with barely-concealed admiration, US officials have introduced the pioneering tactic of planting what they know to be false information in US media outlets — sometimes for the stated purpose of simply “getting inside Putin’s head.”
Plenty of additional loose ends remain to be tugged. For one thing, according to the leaked classified documents furnished by now-incarcerated Air National Guardsman Jack Texiera, in January of this year Prigozhin secretly offered to collaborate with Ukrainian military intelligence. Assuming the US assessment is accurate — granted, a big assumption — such dealings would likely have left Prigozhin not too many steps removed from a wide array of US military and intelligence assets, given the expansively intricate web of US operational involvement in Ukraine.
Yet whatever these uncertainties, one thing can plainly be said: any flat assurance that the US had “nothing to do” with regime-destabilizing events in Russia must necessarily overlook the repeated assertions of US intent to instigate regime destabilization in Russia.
Note from MT: Regular posting on Substack will now resume. Apologies for the brief hiatus