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Diplomacy Watch: How is the West responding to Prigozhin’s abandoned revolt?

Diplomacy Watch: How is the West responding to Prigozhin’s abandoned revolt?

Some are urging Kyiv to take advantage of chaos in Russia to ramp up its counteroffensive

Europe

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny last weekend has, perhaps not surprisingly, overshadowed any other news concerning the Russia-Ukraine war in recent days. 

In public, Western officials have said very little about how they are interpreting what unfolded over the weekend. But privately, there have been wide-ranging discussions about how the revolt will affect the future of the war — and the conclusion is uncertain, according to a number of reports from this week. 

On one hand, some hope that domestic distractions and in-fighting in Moscow can boost Kyiv’s counteroffensive, which has so far struggled to gain ground. “As the United States and its European allies work to make sense of last weekend’s chaos in the Kremlin, they’re urging Kyiv to seize a ‘window’ of opportunity that could help its counteroffensive push through Russian positions,” reported Politico. “It’s best to hit an enemy while it’s down, and Kyiv would be hard-pressed to find a more wounded Russia, militarily and politically, than it is right now.”

In the U.S. Congress, these dynamics have increased hopes that it will be easier to pass the next aid package for Kyiv. Talks had reportedly stagnated in the aftermath of the debt ceiling deal and Republican opposition to sending more funds. “I would hope what [the mutiny] does is reinforce to members of Congress, particularly some of my Republican colleagues, who were talking about not continuing funding Ukraine, that this is why it is important to make sure that we are funding Ukraine to push forward,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told MSNBC on Monday. 

On the other hand, Western governments are worried about the potential consequences of chaos in Russia, including questions about what would happen to Moscow’s nuclear weapons if Vladimir Putin’s regime became unstable, according to the Financial Times.

“[The weekend’s events] made clear that we are not in agreement on the outcomes of what will happen if Ukraine wins this war and what that will do to Russia,” an anonymous western official told FT. Some G7 governments are urging Kyiv against decisions that could further escalate the war, including moves like  “launching attacks on Russian territory with the aim of increasing instability,” according to the report. 

The FT also suggested that congressional supporters of providing Ukraine with long-range missiles, including ATACMS, were concerned that the short-lived rebellion would make it more difficult to convince the White House to agree out of fear that such artillery could further destabilize Russia. But the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Ukrainian officials believed they “had received positive signs in recent weeks that the U.S. had come around on the ATACMS system.”  

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— An administration official confirmed to Politico that the Biden administration communicated with Putin’s government during the weekend to tell Moscow that U.S. officials viewed the mutiny as an internal issue. “Everything was done to ensure that Russia didn’t see an American hand in all this,” Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, who first wrote about the backchannel communication, told Politico. “From a U.S. perspective, that was actually quite useful, being able to communicate to Moscow that America’s policy is to defend Ukraine and help them get their land back but that it’s not regime change or destroying Russia.”

— Pope Francis sent a peace envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Moscow this week. "The main purpose of the initiative is to encourage humanitarian gestures, which can contribute to facilitating a solution to the current tragic situation and find ways to achieve a just peace," the Vatican said in a statement. The envoy reportedly met with Putin adviser and former Russian ambassador to Washington Yuri Ushakov, but not with Putin himself. Zuppi, who helped mediate an end to Mozambique’s civil war in 1992, also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv early June. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow "highly appreciates the efforts and initiatives of the Vatican to find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis.”

— Jens Stoltenberg will serve as NATO’s chief for another year, according to Politico. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has played a major role in the decision with a number of capitals preferring to maintain the experienced politician, known for his careful rhetoric, during a politically sensitive time for the alliance,” report Lili Bayer and Alexander Ward.

U.S. State Department news:

In a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel remained tight-lipped about Washington’s reaction to the Prigozhin’s mutiny. “We continue to monitor the situation and will continue to be in close coordination with our allies and partners. As we’ve said before, this is an internal Russian matter, and it’s too soon to know the impacts, both for the immediate region, but to your other question about potential impacts in other parts of the world. The one thing I will just make clear is that our support for Ukraine will continue,” he said. 

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