Britain’s Spy Master Says Putin Cut Deal With Wagner Mercenary Chief

The head of Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6, said on Wednesday that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had “cut a deal” with Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, during Mr. Prigozhin’s failed rebellion last month.

The comments from Richard Moore, the head of MI6, in a rare speech in Prague at an event hosted by Politico, offer insights from a Western intelligence official into the stunning but short-lived revolt by Mr. Prigozhin last month.

The Wagner leader staged a mutiny against Russia’s military last month, which saw his mercenary forces marching toward the capital before abruptly halting. More than two weeks later, the Kremlin disclosed that Mr. Prigozhin and other Wagner leaders had met with Mr. Putin for three hours in the days after the rebellion ended.

“I think he probably feels under some pressure,” Mr. Moore said of Mr. Putin, speaking at the British ambassador’s residence in the Czech capital. “Prigozhin was his creature, utterly created by Putin, and yet he turned on him. He really didn’t fight back against Prigozhin; he cut a deal to save his skin using the good offices of the leader of Belarus.”

Mr. Moore also reflected on the head-spinning nature of the Wagner forces’ sudden march toward Moscow, the swiftness with which they stopped, and Mr. Prigozhin’s seeming escape — so far — from the grim fate of many Kremlin critics.

“Prigozhin started off that day as a traitor at breakfast, he had been pardoned by supper, and then a few days later, he was invited for tea,” Mr. Moore told the audience. “So, there are some things that even the chief of MI6 finds a little bit difficult to try and interpret, in terms of who’s in and who’s out.”

Last week, Mr. Putin said that Wagner troops could continue fighting alongside the Russian Army in Ukraine, but without their leader.

“He is clearly under pressure,” Mr. Moore said of Mr. Putin. “You don’t have a group of mercenaries advance up the motorway toward Rostov and get to within 125 kilometers of Moscow unless you have not quite predicted that was going to happen.”

Mr. Moore was not the only British official weighing in on the situation on Wednesday. James Cleverly, Britain’s foreign minister, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, said that no matter “how Putin attempts to spin it, an attempted coup is never a good look.”

Julian Barnes contributed reporting from Aspen, Colorado.

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