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The inner workings of Biden’s response to the Russian revolt

Nothing was for sure as President Joe Biden walked from the White House residence to a briefing on the developing crisis in Russia.

For instance, the impact of a column of Wagner gang mercenaries rapidly advancing toward Moscow on the battle in Ukraine wasn’t immediately apparent. Whether or not the Russian forces led by President Putin were willing to battle was also unclear.

But one thing was clear: whatever was going down on the M-4 motorway in southern Russia may alter the outcome of a struggle that has come to define a presidency.

Putin’s hold on power has never seemed more tenuous than it did last weekend, sixteen months after Russia invaded Ukraine. Even as American officials scour information for signals that Putin’s power is waning, Biden saw the event as a warning of how unpredictable the problem remains.

The main goal has been to prevent Putin from having an excuse to claim that the West is out to get him killed.

Biden stressed the importance of not giving credence to predicted charges from Putin of western involvement in a phone chat with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Those who were on the conversation say the advice was to keep things calm and see how things played out on the ground in Russia. For months, Biden has been saying to his staff that he wants to stop “World War III.”

U.S. embassies around the world received an identical communication from Washington DC, instructing them to tell their host countries, “the United States has no intention of involving itself in this matter.” If they didn’t, the foreign outposts were told to “not proactively engage host government officials” on the issue, according to a person who was familiar with the message.

It has also been reported by those with knowledge of the situation that the administration has conveyed a message to the Russian leadership reiterating that the United States will not intervene.

Biden and his staff are currently trying to make sense of the events of the past few days and plot a course of action. The crisis accord struck by Belarus was unexpected and has not inspired much trust among American officials. According to US officials, it might make Russians even more skeptical of Putin’s leadership.

“Irrefutably, there are more inquiries than solutions at the moment,” said Steve Hall, a former head of the CIA’s Russia operations, who believes that the agency will eventually learn the truth about these matters, but that it may take months or even years.

Vladimir Putin is unquestionably in a worse situation than he was 36 hours ago, both personally and as the head of Russia and the entire country, according to Hall. The Ukrainians will greatly gain from this, of course. However, I believe Putin should be weakened. He can never regain his previous stature as Russia’s all-powerful dictator. It’s evident to everyone on the planet that this is no longer the case.

One of Biden’s most notable accomplishments, according to officials, is the response to the conflict in Ukraine, and more specifically the stunning display of western unity it provoked. This, they feel, is evidence of Biden’s knowledge of global policy and might help him in the upcoming race.

A counteroffensive in Ukraine, however, has yet to gain any traction, and it is uncertain whether or not Republicans in Congress will authorize any additional help for Ukraine going ahead. Putin’s recent weakness, along with his control over the world’s greatest nuclear arsenal, makes the situation increasingly precarious.

On “State of the Union” with Dana Bash on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “It’s too soon to say exactly where this is going to go. And I think this is a movie, and we haven’t even gotten to the end of the first act.”

“What we have witnessed, though, is truly exceptional. I also think you’ve seen certain fissures open up where there weren’t any before,” he continued.

Officials who saw events unfold late on Friday and Saturday were concerned about Putin’s reaction. No changes in Russia’s nuclear posture were reported in Biden’s briefing on Saturday, which was held in a small room near the White House mess hall due to renovations in the Situation Room.

The president has been holding closed-door meetings with officials at Camp David, where President Biden went shortly after, to determine what happened and what should happen next.

Of course, Biden has never been hesitant to voice his disapproval of Putin. Long before the United States government did, he branded him a war criminal. Standing in front of tractors in Iowa, he made what seemed to be unplanned accusations of “genocide.”

When Biden concluded his speech in Poland last year, he said, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” This was widely interpreted as a call for regime change. His advisors tried to silence him afterward.

Despite the rhetoric, US intelligence and military planning in the 16 months since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have not prioritized a scenario in which Putin is no longer in control of Russia. Despite the failure of Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, the likelihood of his removal from office has never been seen as high, even among his closest advisors.

Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan and a former CIA analyst, claims that the events of this weekend in Russia show that Putin was wrong to invade Ukraine.

Putin’s decision to attack the entire country of Ukraine was a foolish gamble on his part, but he apparently believed he could outwait us. That American resolve, NATO resolution, our allies, would just get tired and bored, and he could wait us out; we wouldn’t want to fight a war, we wouldn’t be engaged, and we wouldn’t stay unified. About a year and a half later, we’ve managed to maintain a global coalition together to push back on him, and he’s the one who is wobbling, exposed, and having serious problems inside his ranks.

The contest for control between Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defence was one that White House officials had been keeping a careful eye on. According to declassified White House reports from January, Wagner has been developing into a “rival power centre to the Russian military and other Russian militaries.”

At the time, it was speculated by officials that Prigozhin’s actions in Ukraine were motivated more by his personal ambitions than by Russia’s strategic goals.

US national security officials, including those in the White House, have been keeping a close eye on the “ongoing battle” between Prigozhin and the Russian ministry of defence ever since.

The third week of June saw US intelligence officers briefing congressional leaders on their findings, which indicated that Prigozhin was plotting a significant challenge to Russia’s military leadership.

However, the rapid acceleration of the crisis necessitated some frantic activity. National security adviser Jake Sullivan, who was supposed to fly to Copenhagen this weekend for talks about Ukraine, instead accompanied Biden on Marine One to Camp David. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cancelled his international trip to deal with the crisis.

Biden, on the other hand, was able to keep his weekend plans relatively unchanged. He missed the boat to Camp David by approximately an hour. He took his son Hunter and Hunter’s kid Beau aboard a plane to the Catoctin mountain retreat.

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