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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner Paramilitary Group Head, Agreed To Leave Russia For Belarus; Putin Ensures Prigozhin Safe Passage To Belarus, According To Kremlin; Interview With Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Of Europe And U.S. Air Force Retired General Philip Breedlove; Interview With Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center Director Alexander Gabuev; U.S. Intel Saw Signs Prigozhin Was Planning Challenge; Putin's Iron Grip On Power Faces Its Most Serious Threat; White House Closely Monitoring Power Struggle In Russia. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 24, 2023 - 20:00:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper in New York. This is special coverage of the extraordinary and still confusing events we have been reporting on for the past 24 hours out of Russia and of what will be a critical day ahead for Vladimir Putin.

What we witnessed over the last 24 hours appears to have been the most serious threat to Putin's hold on power in decades. At this hour we know a lot, but it's important to point out there is a lot that is not known. For instance, what will be the fate of the man in the back seat of this SUV, Yevgeny Prigozhin, cheered by some as he appeared to be leaving Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian town his mercenary force had just occupied. This video taken just hours after he called off his mercenaries from their push toward Moscow and agreed to a deal brokered by Russia's ally, Belarus.


YEVGENY PRIGHOZIN, HEAD OF WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY (through translator): Therefore, realizing all the responsibility for the fact that Russian blood will be shed from one of the sides, we turn our columns around and leave in the opposite direction to the field camps, according to the plan.


COOPER: According to the plan, he said. We still don't really know what that plan was or is now. Russia says, Belarus is where Prigozhin is now heading. Yet the Kremlin also says, he doesn't know where he is right now. Wagner forces were also seen leaving their positions from the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don. They've claimed to capture not only that headquarters but other sites -- military sites in the city, and a second Russian city after crossing the border from Ukraine. Here's new video as they left.


CROWD: Wagner. Wagner. Wagner. Wagner. Wagner. Wagner.


COOPER: People chanting, Wagner. Wagner. The Wagner fighters apparently being cheered and hugged by residents. Now, the Kremlin saying those Wagner mercenaries will return to their bases and sign contracts with the Russian military. Now, keep in mind, all of this coming barely hours after Russian forces barreled up Russia's M4 highway toward Moscow until Prigozhin announced they were turning around, surprising everybody.

We have full team coverage for you tonight. Joining me this evening, CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, Former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, and CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson.

So, Nic, I want to start with you. Earlier today, Vladimir Putin was referring to Prigozhin as a treasonous person who would be held accountable. Little seem to be stopping Prigozhin's forces from getting close to Moscow. Now, there's allegedly this deal, allegedly, brokered by Belarus. Let's start with where things stand right now.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Prigozhin in the wind somewhere. The Kremlin doesn't know where, in theory on his way to Belarus. But we don't know the term or conditions of what happens when he gets there or how he's going to get there. Does he have a free pass to drive through Russia? Is he under house arrest when he arrives? Does he have to go to the capital Minsk? What are the terms and conditions of his release there? Does he have to stop criticizing Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister? To that point, what happens to Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, in the whole of this deal that Prigozhin appears to have figured out with Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president.

There are so many details in this that we just don't know. What we do know, I think at this stage, is that Putin is a lesser figure.

COOPER: Yes, I mean for Vladimir Putin has spent a lot of time projecting strength, wanting to look tough. He now appears emasculated on the world stage. What does he do now in the next 24 hours?

ROBERTSON: Again, not clear. Is he under pressure to fire his defense chief or has his defense chief managed to survive this? We don't know. What we do know about this --

COOPER: And does he --

ROBERTSON: -- a couple of years -- yes --

COOPER: -- I mean, does he allow Prigozhin to just continue to live in Belarus and continue to get money from Russian banks? I mean, it's hard to imagine Prigozhin getting -- Vladimir Putin letting Prigozhin get away with this. ROBERTSON: But on the other hand, it's also hard to imagine Putin letting Prigozhin go at all in a way because he's been so valuable in Africa and Syria. His mercenary forces there have been hugely valuable. Can Putin afford to do without them? Can he afford to do without the motivation the Wagner fighters need on the front lines in Ukraine?


What we do -- look, here's a picture of Putin a couple of years ago. The guy at the center of power, able to control all the different competing interests of the different oligarchs. It's a different picture right now. He failed in his initial invasion in Ukraine. He was the one that was going to bring and continue to give stability to Russia. Yet what he's actually done is bring, in essence, almost a coup, not quite, but almost an insurrection. A treason onto the streets with thousands of armed -- heavily armed fighters.

That hasn't happened in recent Russian history. And now, he's had to let a far lesser leader broker a deal. He is visibly weakened to the people, the oligarchs at home, and to his international partners like China, for example, who are already concerned about the way Putin's handling the war.

COOPER: Also, Wagner was his private army, essentially, a lot of the work they were doing in Africa and places was in furtherance, not just of Russian interest, but of Prigozhin's, you know, financial interest, mining, you know, illegal mining, all sorts of, you know, stealing of natural resources from a variety of countries. What happens to Wagner forces? I mean, if they're signing contracts with the Russian army, you know, it seems like the Wagner forces, at least, had a certain esprit de corps that the Russian army does not, and they had -- they were the, sort of, the shock troops on the battlefield. Would they maintain that and how would that impact the battlefield?

ROBERTSON: It -- you know, on the surface it looks like Prigozhin has lost the battle that he was having with Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister for control of his own forces. You know, this is what erupted over the past -- this what came to a head and erupted over the past couple of days.

But, again, we just don't know the details of what's going down. What happens to Shoigu out of all of this? The -- Prigozhin's forces are a necessary part of the fight in Ukraine. But now, because of the tensions with the Russian forces, do they -- are they -- do they really feel that they're part of them? Do they fight strongly beside them? Are there tensions that exist on the battlefield that weaken the overall Russian effort? Will Ukraine be able to exploit this?

The -- I keep saying there are so many answered -- unanswered questions, and the reality is that's where we stand right now.

COOPER: Yes. Nic Robertson, appreciate it. I want to get more now on the reaction inside Russia, what we know about it. Jill Dougherty joins us. Jill, Vladimir Putin delivered this emergency speech, which we all saw this morning, calling the mutiny an act of treasonous. A stab in the back. A betrayal. Harkening back to the Russian revolution. I just want to play some of what he said to the Russian people.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): All those who deliberately chose the path of treachery, who prepared an armed mutiny, who chose the path of blackmail and terrorist methods will face inevitable punishment and will answer both to the law and to our people.


COOPER: So, earlier this morning, he's saying they're going to answer to the law and to our people. And now, all of a sudden, that doesn't seem to be appearing to happen. Will Putin forgive?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: He won't forgive him. Putin doesn't forgive traitors. And he's been so clear -- I mean, at the beginning of the war you probably remember he said, scum and traitors. So even if he says, Prigozhin, you go to Belarus. He's still a traitor. And I think that Putin will never, ever forgive that. So, what he does, does he murder him, you know, does he get killed in Belarus? That's a possibility.

But I think it's a real dilemma because as long as Prigozhin is acting the way he does and has some type of support, he is a threat, regardless of where he is. And I go back, you know, you were reading what Putin said today. One of the things he said about Prigozhin is boundless ambition and personal interests led him to be a traitor. So, maybe they paid him off. That's entirely possible. These guys are so corrupt, and Prigozhin makes so much money in so many different ways, in so many illegal ways that maybe they did pay him off in some bizarre way that we'll find out in six months of that.

But Putin himself looks really weak. If -- I were Putin, I would be worried about those people on the streets of Rostov cheering the Wagner people as they leave. What is that? What is that? Why are average Russians on the streets cheering people who just tried to carry out a coup? That means that maybe they support them or they like them. Whatever it is, it's really bad news for Putin.


COOPER: You know, we're in a difficult bind because, you know, some of the information we're getting is either from Prigozhin in his statements, it's from Russian officials and their statements, it's, you know, Belarus, none of these actors are known for reliable statements or honesty at all. So, we're somewhat hampered in what we can report on this. Belarus allegedly brokered this deal, not Vladimir Putin, does that even make any sense to you? I mean, Vladimir Putin does not look to Belarus for -- as equal leadership.

DOUGHERTY: The -- well, actually, this is one thing to me does kind of makes sense because figure if Putin now negotiates some type of deal with Prigozhin, Prigozhin is on his level, or at least somewhat on his level. You know, another guy he's negotiating with. If you have the Belarussian leader, Lukashenko, doing the deal, then Putin can kind of sit back and say, well, OK, thank you, you know, I have not been involved. So, it doesn't -- let's say, it saves face for Putin on some level.

COOPER: Interesting.

DOUGHERTY: Again, we're just speculating here, but that does make sense to me.

COOPER: Jill Dougherty, appreciate it. We'll check back in with you.

Ukraine has been watching all of this obviously very closely. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claiming today Vladimir Putin was, in his words, very afraid as events were unfolding.

Ivan Watson is here with me now. Talk a bit more about what you -- we've heard from Ukraine over the last 24 hours.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Ukrainians were celebrating as they were watching this unfold on Saturday. I'm going to quote our colleague, Ben Wedeman, who said it was like Christmas in June in Ukraine on Saturday. The memes out there of Ukrainians eating popcorn and watching this unfold as it looked like Russia's most powerful mercenary organization was going to go toe to toe with Russian security forces. That was great news for Ukrainians.

But there are serious issues here. I mean, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he came out with a statement saying, today the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Complete chaos. Complete absence of any predictability. He went on to claim that perhaps Putin himself was no longer in Moscow. So, clearly, Kyiv taking advantage of this crisis and trying to hurt Russia's reputation further than it already hurt itself.

COOPER: It's so interesting to see that statement from Zelenskyy saying that he's sure that Putin is no longer in Moscow, given that Zelenskyy, you know, defied those who, you know, offered him safe passage out of Ukraine in the darkest days in those early hours of the war and stayed in Kyiv. Incredibly bravely and made that, you know, sort of heroic video saying I'm here, my people are here. For him to now be in a position to say, Vladimir Putin fled Moscow, and again we don't know if that's the case, it just -- the irony is somewhat -- I mean, it's extraordinary.

What does this mean for the war in Ukraine, though? I mean, the Wagner forces have, as we said before, were, you know, really on the front lines. I mean, the battle of Bakhmut, they often led the way, they took heavy, heavy casualties. A lot of those prisoners who were recruited, they were, you know, forced to or agreed to fight for Wagner. What happens now to the Russian side?

WATSON: That's a big question. And we do know that the Wagner mercenaries who had fought for months to try to capture Bakhmut, after they declared that they had captured what was left of that city, recall it was basically destroyed, they then made a big show. And Yevgeny Prigozhin, himself, made a big show of withdrawing from the city and handing it over to the Russian ministry of defense and the regular armed Russian forces.

So, we don't know where they've been really since then and how active they have been on the front lines, which part of the front lines they've been active on. Until, all of a sudden, we saw them packing up their gear and essentially invading Russia and launching a mercenary mutiny, that's something I never thought we'd be reporting on. But there are now big questions. Were the Ukrainians able to exploit any of this confusion yesterday? It all finished in just a day, so I don't know if this will provide the Ukrainians enough opportunity to really seize it as they are supposed to be in the midst of their long-awaited counteroffensive right now.

COOPER: Yes. Ivan Watson, appreciate it. Thank you.

Ahead, a lot more on what we have been witnessing, more on the fallout of this rebellion as it was felt on the front lines in Ukraine. Will it actually impact the war? We'll talk to a number of sources on that.

Plus, sources tell CNN, U.S. and western officials were caught off- guard by this escalation by Wagner. We'll have the latest on how the White House is reacting to the developing situation. We'll be right b back.



COOPER: Ukraine closely monitoring events inside Russia, obviously. Officials there are saying they launched multiple counteroffensives in a number of positions. We can't independently confirm that on the Ukrainian side. President Zelenskyy says that the Wagner insurrection proves Vladimir Putin's weakness saying, "The bosses of Russia do not control anything."

I'm joined now by Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, Retired General Philip Breedlove. Also joining us is director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, Alexander Gabuev. Appreciate both of you being with us.

General Breedlove, I'd like to just take a step back from where things are right now, which is pretty opaque, and look at what's already occurred and try to make some sense of it. Based on your military experience, what do you think Prigozhin was attempting with the move into Rostov-on-Don and the move toward Moscow. I mean, was he -- what was -- from a military standpoint, does that make sense to you?


GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE (RET.) FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE and U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, I -- Anderson, I don't think we should be surprised by what he did. We have seen him squabbling with the leadership of Shoigu and Gerasimov for months now. And if you remember, he came to the point of almost stopping the fight in Bakhmut because he said he wasn't getting the appropriate support from leadership in Moscow.

So, this squabble has been going on for some time. And there are people today, even who believe this was more about displacing Shoigu and Gerasimov rather than displacing Putin. I think the dust has to settle on that yet. But clearly, Mr. Prigozhin had a plan that he executed well to take over two very important cities in the south to start making his point that something needed to change with the senior military leadership of Russia.

COOPER: Alexander, I mean does that make sense to you that Prigozhin was going to go to Moscow with his mercenaries and, what, confront Shoigu and other military leaders? I mean, because clearly Vladimir Putin, in his statement, was portraying this as a treasonous act, a stab in the back, a betrayal.

ALEXANDER GABUEV, DIRECTOR, CARNEGIE RUSSIA EURASIA CENTER: We don't know whether the plan was really to go into Moscow, but they came very close, much closer than many people have anticipated in watching an armored column breaking through the checkpoints and coming closer than 200 miles to the capital city is something really spectacular.

And then the gearing of taking 1.2 million cities of Rostov, including the military hot waters (ph) of the south and district without any resistance, going like the knife through the butter is really something quite impressive in demonstrating the daring and also the power behind Mr. Prigozhin.

But also, the incompetence of the security forces that were absolutely not prepared for that level of threat, and the way that the forces are tied up in the war in Ukraine.

COOPER: General Breedlove, to Alexander's point, it is extraordinary given that we saw, you know, Ukrainian-backed Russians make an incursion weeks ago across the border. And Prigozhin made a big deal about it saying, how insulting it was that there was no security on the border. He now then makes this incursion and takes over Rostov-on- Don. What does it say about the security forces in Russia that he was able to get so close to Moscow? I mean, where was the Russian army? Where were -- what was to stop him?

BREEDLOVE: Well, I think you've hit it right on the head. And in fact, this is what the Ukrainians were talking so much about. How there's inherent weakness in the system now in Russia. But I do believe we have to give Mr. Prigozhin a little credit in that. He didn't just decide to do this yesterday or the day before.

COOPER: This takes planning.

BREEDLOVE: I think this has been cooking for a while because he was able to walk into two major cities, take them over with almost zero resistance. I believe he's been cooking this soup for a while and it played out well for him. And I think that also speaks to the disarray of Russian leadership because they have major cities -- I mean, these cities are key to the fight in Ukraine, who probably were in agreement with Mr. Prigozhin before this launched. COOPER: Alexander, where does this leave the Wagner group? Where does it leave the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine? I mean, again, it's impossible to gauge the impact on morale. But just in terms of the Wagner forces, I mean, they played an important role in this war.

GABUEV: We don't know the terms of the deal, and we need to see whether both sides keep to this terms that that have been agreed and mediated for Lukashenko because nobody in this story has really a record of being credible and being honest and keeping to their word.


GABUEV: I think that it's very imaginable that the Russian forces need to go through the people who took part in the mutiny and filter them and figure out who was really actively plotting that. I don't think that any forces will now go back from their positions and defend the cities. I think that the force fighting in Ukraine will remain in intact. But Mr. Putin will probably need to invest more resources in his counterintelligence and the political police, so the regime needs to become more brutal and more hands-on to prevent situations like this from happening in the future.


COOPER: Alexander Gabuev, appreciate it. General Philip Breedlove, as well, thank you so much.

Ahead, we're going to continue to focus on what has occurred. Just how the man once known as Putin's chef became the very person to put serious bruises on the Russian leader's war in Ukraine. A closer look at Yevgeny Prigozhin, and what happens next to him and the vicious mercenary group that he led and founded, next.


COOPER: Well, from Putin's chef to an armed revolt, Wagner Group's strongman, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is now headed to Belarus, apparently. And strangely enough, the Kremlin says that Putin personally guarantees he won't face any repercussions.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen gives us a closer look now at the mercenary leader who, may be one of the first major Putin challengers to emerge unscathed.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Anderson. Well, Yevgeny Prigozhin certain seems to have had a pretty meteoric rise. Now, on one hand, that was because he was so close to Vladimir Putin. However, he was pretty important for Vladimir Putin as well.

If you look at the beginnings, it really was pretty small at the start. He was in jail in the 1980s, in the Soviet Union, and started selling hot dogs in the 1990s in St. Petersburg. Now, it was there that he founded a catering company and became known as Putin's chef. And from there, things really went up for Yevgeny Prigozhin. He started a media company which then turned into a media and propaganda empire, which, of course, the U.S. says meddled heavily in the 2016 presidential election. Yevgeny Prigozhin actually indicted for that in the United States.

But then there was the Wagner private military company. And I saw them and action, really at the beginning, when they were starting to go to places like Syria. And on the ground in Syria, their forces back then were pretty much doing base protection for the Russian military that was on the ground in Syria. But from there, things really did evolve. They started getting involved in the oil business in Syria, then, of course, also things like gold and diamonds in African countries and started training the forces of African countries as well.

But it really wasn't until the war in Ukraine that Wagner turned into pretty much a full-on army with really heavy weapons. If you look at the battle in Bakhmut, for instance, some of the firepower that was unleashed there by the artillery, by the tanks that Wagner now had in its possession, that certainly seemed to be a very professional army. And it was now that Yevgeny Prigozhin seemed to be at the height of his power, but it appears as though he's gone one step too far, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it. Joining me now is Russian journalist, Mikhail Zygar. He is the author of "War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and Path to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine." Also in January, he wrote a really interesting piece in "The New York Times" suggesting a power struggle between Prigozhin and Putin was bound to happen.

Mikhail, you wrote that Prigozhin "maybe Putin's greatest threat to power." He certainly has been over the last 24 hours. Why do you -- why did Vladimir Putin allow this guy all these months to spout off, attack his generals and the execution of the war? Was it because the -- his troops were so important to the war effort or did Vladimir Putin like that he was going after his generals and having some chaos around him?

MIKHAIL ZYGAR, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR, "WAR AND PUNISHMENT: PUTIN, ZELENSKY, AND THE PATH TO RUSSIA'S INVASION OF UKRAINE" AND "ALL THE KREMLIN'S MEN: INSIDE THE COURT OF VLADIMIR PUTIN": Hello, Anderson. Thank you for having me. You know, yes, actually Putin was really very concerned because he didn't want the army to become very popular. And he was -- he really didn't want anyone to challenge him for power and -- but he -- but has never thought that Yevgeny Prigozhin could be the person to be really dangerous.

So, Putin loves rat races. He loves giving the same orders to different people and watching them run. So, he thought that Prigozhin might be dangerous for Minister of Defense Shoigu and might be his rival, but he never expected that his puppet, as he considered Prigozhin, can stop being a puppet. You know, that's some kind of Pinocchio moment when Pinocchio thought that he was not a puppet but a real boy, that's what happened to Prigozhin last year when he unexpectedly realized that he's becoming very popular and he loved that moment. COOPER: Yes. I mean, you could tell in the videos that he was constantly making -- you know, dressed up like a Wagner fighter. He's not -- he has no military experience. He's not an actual fighter, but he was certainly -- you know, somebody dressed him like one and he talked very tough in all these videos.

Why do you -- what happens to him now? I mean, what -- obviously, there's a lot we do not know about what this deal is, if there really is even a deal, if Prigozhin will go to Belarus, how he will live there, what his -- what happens to Wagner? I mean, it's unanswerable. But what do you think -- what happens in the next 48 hours, the next week, or month?

ZYGAR: You know, I won't pretend that I know, but I've been speaking to a lot of sources, I still have some back in Moscow. And all of them were very serious about the potential threat of Mr. Prigozhin back last year. They were very serious yesterday and all of them said that that was a real challenge for Putin's power and that was the real potential coup. And none of them told me this evening that the game was over. Everyone expects Prigozhin to have much more power behind him.


Some people do not even believe that he was going to fulfill his -- that he was going to make what he promised to do. Probably they were expecting him to still have some forces back in the City of Rostov.


ZYGAR: So, he is not gone. And his game is not over, for sure. That's something a lot of people in Moscow still believe in.

COOPER: It seems like if he was to give up his Wagner forces, that would essentially -- he would be giving up all his power. I mean, no matter how much money he has or bodyguards he has wherever he lives, I mean, Vladimir Putin could get to him.

ZYGAR: Yes. And, you know, first, we don't know for sure how many members of the military or the security services are really could be considered to be Prigozhin's followers, Prigozhin supporters. Because, yes, he obviously has much more than all of his Wagner Group.

His ideology, that is a mixture of anti-corruption fight that Alexei Navalny used to proclaim many years ago, and Prigozhin combines that ideology with that of ultraconservative anti-western Putin fascism.


ZYGAR: So, he's an oligarch fighter, at the same time, he's anti-west (ph) fighter, that makes him especially popular among a lot of people, not only with his mercenaries.

COOPER: It's really fascinating. Mikhail Zygar, really appreciate it. Thank you so much. Good to have you on. Coming up, U.S. intelligence saw science that Prigozhin was planning to challenge Russian military leadership, but even they apparently were caught off guard by how fast the last 24 hours, the events of it, the latest and how the White House is reacting to the situation, next.



COOPER: Well, you can pick your adjective, it was so stunning, extraordinary, consequential weekend for Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as his iron grip on power faced its serious threat. Sources tells CNN that U.S. intelligence officials believe that Yevgeny Prigozhin was planning a challenge to Russian military but were caught off guard by this rapid escalation.

In the meantime, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken's office, confirmed that he spoke today with officials from faraway Japan and Turkey, as well as many European nations about the situation. CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond joins me now live from outside the White House.

Jeremy, so President Biden and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan they're at Camp David. What's the latest you're hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Jake Sullivan's presence at President Biden's side at Camp David today tells you everything you need to know about just how seriously the White House was taking this situation and how uncertain it has been over the last 24 hours.

Sullivan, he was scheduled to travel to Denmark, but instead, he stayed here in Washington and traveled with the president to Camp David, where I am told that he's been giving the president regular updates on the unfolding situation.

President Biden, for his part, in addition to getting these regular briefings, he's been on the phone with key U.S. allies. He spoke this morning with the president of France, the chancellor of Germany, as well as the British prime minister and other key officials, including the secretary of state, secretary of defense and Jake Sullivan have been making calls to their counterparts.

Now, the White House has simply been saying they have been monitoring -- actively monitoring the situation over the last 24 hours, but beyond what they have been saying it's what they have not been saying that is also so notable here, and that's because they really have been cautious because of the fast-moving nature of this and also, because they didn't want to give an impression that the U.S. was supporting or trying to influence events on the ground.

COOPER: Jeremy Diamond, appreciate it. Thank you.

I want to bring in CNN National Security Analyst and former director of U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper. James Clapper, appreciate you being with us. I am curious what stands out to you about, I mean, not just the last 24 hours, but let's focus on the abrupt turn of events.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST AND FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Anderson, I think it's very strange and kind of bizarre that after mounting this military operation, which apparently didn't -- the Wagner Group didn't result Prigozhin in a lot of resistance.

All of a sudden, it is called off. April fool. And Prigozhin, excuse me, the head of the Wagner Group has agreed to go to Belarus as an exile. Well, this is, you know, a very strange turn of events to me and it makes me wonder what Putin did to leverage him to cause him to suddenly change and agree to such an arrangement. And Belarus, by the way, is no safe haven for Prigozhin because the -- you know, Russia -- I mean, Belarus is essentially an extension of Russia. So --

COOPER: Yes. And what I don't understand -- if Prigozhin goes into, you know, exile, I mean, that's not the word that was used, but if he goes to live in Belarus, which is, you know, a vassal state of Russia, essentially, and he -- maybe he has a bunch of bodyguards around him, a bunch of thugs around him, but if he doesn't have his 20,000 Wagner fighters, he is very vulnerable. I mean, he -- anybody can be taken out in Belarus no matter how nice their house is and how secure their private bunker is.


CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And as we have seen, Putin doesn't hesitate to reach out and touch people that are even in the West, U.K., even in the United States. So, why he would agree to Belarus, which is not a safe place for him, if -- I wouldn't go above the first floor of any building. So, this is strange. So, I think there's much of this we don't understand yet and it's certainly bears watching.

COOPER: What do you think happens to the Wagner forces? Because I mean they played a critical role in -- I think they have -- in the war in Ukraine. I mean, Prigozhin certainly has portrayed it as such. They've been allowed to operate. They are the ones who were recruiting all those convicts to be cannon fodder and just going into the meat grinder around Bakhmut. What happens now to them?

CLAPPER: Well, you wonder if part of this -- part of the motivation for this agreement, at least on Putin's part, is to somehow split it up. And the irony here is the Wagner Group has been the most effective fighting force for the Russians in Ukraine. A part from their global involvement in places like Syria and Africa, they're all over the place. And so, what happens to them? That's a good question. Is someone else going to take it over or are they going to split it up? That's a question we really don't know the answer to.

COOPER: What concerns -- you know, what do you think -- if you were in the Intelligence Community now, what would you be trying to figure out over the next 24 hours?

CLAPPER: Well, two things. If there are other -- any indications whatsoever of another coup attempt, if this was a coup attempt, where another group or another party would try to take advantage of Putin's vulnerability. I mean, he clearly just diminished or humiliated, embarrassed both the domestically and globally. So, are others making a move against him or is he going to -- is he able to solidify his control over the national security apparatus?

The other thing, of course, in a situation like this is the Intelligence Community is going to be very sensitive to watching the nuclear arsenal and its state of readiness and any changes there too, either strategic or tactical. But that's as a point of sensitivity if you have even the threat or the jeopardy of a change in leaders.

COOPER: Yes. Director Clapper, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

We're learning that Russia blocked major news outlets as Wagner's armed rebellion played out inside Russian borders. So, what do the Russian people actually know about what went on? And is their opinion of this war in any way changed? We'll have more on that ahead.



COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the events inside Russia. We are getting new information into CNN on what the Intelligence Community is saying about the armed rebellion. CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now. So, Jim, what are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I have been speaking to western intelligence sources just to get their read as to an effect what happened here, was this all for real, right? Because in the span of less than 24 hours you had something come of nothing, it appeared, and then, all of a sudden, you have a major city in the south taken over and a march towards Moscow and then it's over.

But my understanding, from their perspective, is that this was a real challenge to Russian military leadership by Prigozhin, this was not playacting, this was not something for show. And in fact, that it's the western intelligence point of view that Prigozhin have been preparing for this for some time in a number of ways, massing weapons and ammunition, reaching out to contacts in regular army units in Russia to see if he could, in effect, bring them on to his side.

But also, and this is something we had seen in public in recent weeks, Prigozhin making greater and greater and greater critical comments against the Russian military leadership but also targeting Putin himself. So, this was planned, it was prepared, Prigozhin made quite an effort in terms of taking off Rostov-on-Don in the south and then sending his troops north. And that this agreement that came to be, perhaps, equally surprising to some degree, was an effort just to stop this before this got worse. But this was a very real -- for the time that it lasted, Anderson, a very real, at least the intention to be a very real challenge to Putin's leadership.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, I guess the question then, if it was real, why did he stop when he did and what is the actual nature of the deal? And those are simply things we do not know. I don't think really many people do. Will the Intelligence Community, I assume, focus a lot more now on Lukashenko?

SCIUTTO: For sure. Because, one, Lukashenko played a role here. And it's interesting for Lukashenko to have this kind of influence at this stage. Because remember, back in the days before the invasion, Lukashenko portrayed himself as the person who could negotiate peace between Putin and Zelenskyy to avoid that war. Of course, that effort failed and perhaps was never serious because Putin was intent on invading that country.


In this circumstance, it seems that Lukashenko played a role. I mean, we should not exaggerate that role because any final decision would be with the Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. But perhaps Lukashenko here whose own leadership has been in question, his own actual control of his country has been in question, to the extent that he had some influence here that in a way got Putin out of a jam, right?

I mean, you had an open rebellion against Putin's leadership with forces marching on Moscow and Lukashenko able to play a role, at least, in diffusing that situation for now. And now, if Russian officials believe, this is where Prigozhin is going to end up.

The thing is and to echo comments from Director Clapper just before me, Belarus is effectively an extension of Russia.


SCIUTTO: That there are borders between them, but Russia largely controlled Belarus. So, his safety there, you know, far from guaranteed.

COOPER: Yes. I just find that kind of baffling, the idea that he would end up thinking he could live there safely. We'll see. Jim Sciutto, appreciate it.

Stay with CNN for a special coverage. We're going to continue on this chaotic 24 hours in Russia and the critical day ahead for Vladimir. I'll will be right back within the next hour.