Return to Transcripts main page
Isa Soares Tonight
U.S. Addresses Wagner March To Moscow; WH: U.S. Not Involved, Won't Get Involved In Russia Events; Putin To Make "Important Statements" Soon As White House Briefs On 36-Hour Russian Revolt; Ukraine Claims Battlefield Gains In Midst Of Revolt. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired June 26, 2023 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISA SOARES, HOST, ISA SOARES TONIGHT: A very warm welcome to the show, everyone, I'm Isa Soares. We have busy news hour. I want to take you
straight away to the State Department. Let's listen in.
MATTHEW MILLER, SPOKESPERSON, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Yes, I think I answered the question. Saeed(ph), go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to change topic.
MILLER: No, the -- before we -- I will come -- one more, you, Kylie(ph) first, then we'll go to you and then we'll change topics --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thing that you mentioned is -- sorry, I'm just figuring exactly the -- you said --
MILLER: Me too --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The United States will continue to -- sorry, the United States will continue to impose costs on Wagner or its successor. Is
there any indication right now that Wagner is actually standing up a successor organization?
MILLER: I think I said it's -- or successor if any. We've --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes --
MILLER: Noted the announcements by the Ministry of Defense that Wagner Forces are supposed to be absorbed into the Ministry of Defense. We don't
have any assessment of what will happen to the Wagner Group, either in Ukraine or elsewhere around the world. But whether it's Wagner, whether
it's a successor or whether it's any other organization that conducts the activities that Wagner has conducted to destabilize countries, we will hold
those organizations accountable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But no indication that Prigozhin is actively forming a successor organization at this moment?
MILLER: I just don't have any assessments at all --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure -- ]
MILLER: At this time. Yes, go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are media reports that the Biden administration had intelligence about the mutiny of a bail in -- how you call it, since
mid June. And is that correct? And also, if that's true, why didn't that administration issue any warnings to its citizens inside Russia since mid
MILLER: So a few things. Number one, I'm not going to speak to any intelligence matters, as I never do from this podium. I will say, you
didn't exactly need a classified briefing to note that there were tensions between Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense. He's been
quite open about those, and those tensions have been escalating in plain sight for anyone for the last several months.
I will say with respect to American citizens in Russia, separate and apart from this matter, we have been quite clear for some time, that any American
citizens considering travel to Russia should not do so, and any American citizens who are in Russia should depart immediately. All right, anything
else on this topic, I want to go to Saeed(ph) if --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's --
MILLER: Yes, go ahead --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another report, media reports that the State Department Treasury decided to postpone announcing new sanctions against Wagner
following the mutiny. Can you confirm that?
MILLER: No, we never comment on the timing of sanctions actions. I will say generally, we always time the sanctions actions that we take for
maximum impacts and maximum effect. And we will continue, as I said a moment ago, to hold Wagner or any other organization that conducts the
destabilizing activities that Wagner has done across the world.
We will continue to hold any such organization accountable. Russia?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes --
MILLER: All right, I promised Saeed(ph) to get the first non-Russia question. So --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wanted to follow up. So, the Russians, are they responding in real-time to all the outreach that the president
ordered? And are you confident that they would respond -- so, morally if it escalated to nuclear crisis?
MILLER: I certainly wouldn't want to speculate about the second part of your question. These were conversations that we had with Russians --
Russian officials. So, you know, the way a conversation works. You say something, they respond. So, yes, were responding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For you, one last follow-up --
MILLER: You've had a few already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. How do you view the possibility -- I know you said you don't want to speculate about the possibility of Putin
adopting more aggressive tactics in Ukraine as an attempt to consolidate his strength after this event.
MILLER: No, I wouldn't want to speculate about that at all. We have seen him take a number of aggressive actions, even over the weekend, they
continued to launch missile strikes on Ukraine. All I can say are the -- all I can speak to are the actions that we will take, which is to continue
to provide Ukraine what it needs to defend itself and reclaim its territory. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I'll be very brief, but I just --
I'm sorry --
MILLER: No, let me go -- you don't have to.
Saeed(ph), the floor is yours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said it demonstrates -- you said this demonstrates the need for us sto continually support Ukraine, But you're not
acknowledging that. How does this not demonstrate the need of how dangerous and how quickly this war can get out of hand?
MILLER: War is certainly dangerous, which is why we think Russia should end this war immediately as we've called -- as we've called them to do --
Saeed(ph), go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, thank you. Thank you, Matthew. I'm going to switch to the Palestinian issue. I'm tempted to ask about Russia, I have
MILLER: You can ask a question about Russia, Saeed(ph) --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me -- let me -- let me -- let me stick to that --
MILLER: You're not pigeonholed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the Palestinian issue. Over the past few days, there are many attacks for instance on Palestinian villages and towns. I'm going
to ask you about one of them from this higher -- really, almost largely owned by U.S. citizens and so on, maybe something, 85 percent of all homes
that are owned by U.S. citizens.
I want to ask you about the two people, Amar Qetan(ph), who was killed by a policeman. He is a U.S. resident, has an alien card in the U.S., his wife
is an American citizen. His children who are American citizens. And my question to you, have you been in touch with the family?
MILLER: I won't speak to any private conversations we have, all obviously, we always lost -- or lament the loss of any civilian life. It's a matter we
take very seriously, and our condolences certainly go out to his family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's also a U.S. legislator from the town. He's there. Abdelnasser Rashid; he is an Illinois state representative. And
apparently, his home was also attacked, his family was stoned and so on and escaped, being torched, you know, just barely. Are you in touch with him?
MILLER: Again, I won't speak to any private conversations we might be having.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that the Israelis have to compensate the Palestinians for their loss of property?
MILLER: With respect to --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With respect to all these homes that were torched, and property destroyed, cars destroyed. And all this that happened transpired
over the past few days.
MILLER: I will say that we condemn all acts of extremist violence and incitement of violence, whether they be either Israel or Palestinian. And
we remain steadfast in our work to promote de-escalation, and beyond this environment in which Israelis and Palestinians alike are afforded equal
measures of security, prosperity --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And do you believe that Palestinians that lost property had to be compensated?
MILLER: I'll take that one --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the Israelis --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, right, a couple more questions. There were announcements today about maybe, an additional 5,000 housing units. I don't
know how many. You know -- you know, issue about statement about settlement --
SOARES: We want to interrupt the State Department and take you to the White House, also briefing on what's unfolding in Russia. Let's listen in.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Consequential in affirming the basic truth that every American should have the right to
marry the person they love. Ten years ago today, the court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, v. Hollingsworth v. Perry, made significant
strides laying the groundwork for marriage equality in our country.
They were followed two years later by the Supreme Court's ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, finally recognizing that LGBTQ-plus Americans have a
constitutional right to marry who they love. These monumental cases moved our country forward, and they were made possible because of the core ages,
couples, and unrelenting advocates in the LGBTQ-plus community, who fought for these hard-won rights.
Last year, President Biden was proud to build on their legacy by signing into law the Respect for Marriage Act, guaranteeing the rights and
protections of LGBTQ-plus and inter-racial couples. And he continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to ensure equal rights under the
law for all Americans. Our work is not over, but today, we celebrate the progress that has been made, and we recommit ourselves to the work ahead.
As you well know this week, the entire Biden-Harris administration is highlighting the work we've done to grow the economy from the middle out
and bottom up, not the top-down. The president's economic strategy has powered the strongest recovery of any major economy in the world.
SOARES: And you are listening to the White House press briefing there, the White House press secretary we'll stay on top, of course, of what she says
there. But of course, before that, we had as we brought you the State Department, we're trying to get you, of course, all the U.S. reaction to
what we have been seeing in Russia in the past three days.
But for now, let me bring you up to speed on what we have heard. Vladimir Putin is remaining silent today about the brief revolt that's rattled his
iron-grip on power. But the mercenary leader behind it is now speaking out, two days, of course, after a stunning march on Moscow. Yevgeny Prigozhin
released a new audio message explaining why his Wagner forces rebelled and why they abruptly turned around just a few 100 kilometers from the Kremlin.
He didn't reveal his current location, but referenced the leader of Belarus. Have a listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, LEADER, WAGNER MERCENARY GROUP (through translator): Two factors played into my decision to turn around. First factor, we wanted
to avoid a Russian bloodshed. Second is, we marched in demonstration of a protest, not to overturn the power in the country. At this time, Alexander
Lukashenko extended his hand --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: We'll take you to the White House. Let's listen in.
JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, WHITE HOUSE: From his national security team throughout the
weekend. And those updates continue for him. On Saturday morning, the president convened a call with his top national security aides to discuss
the developments and any impacts that instability in Russia could have as we -- as we prepared for a range of scenarios.
And the president also convened calls with many of our allies and partners throughout the weekend, and those calls continue. National Security adviser
Sullivan, Secretary Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin also spoke with a number of their counterparts as well. Now as the president noted, it was
important that both internally, here inside the administration, and externally, with our allies and partners, including with Ukraine, that we
all shared our perspectives on what was going on and we all stayed on the same page.
We also make clear to all our allies and partners that the United States was not involved, and would not get involved in these events, and that we
view them as internal Russian matters. We delivered that same message to the Russians themselves through appropriate diplomatic channels. I'll
emphasize as the president did just a little bit ago, that it's too early to speculate on the impact these events might have, or to reach any
definitive conclusions, except one, of course.
And that is that, no matter what happens next, we're going to stay closely- coordinated with those allies and partners, and we're going to continue to stand with Ukraine. As we're speaking here right now, Ukrainian forces are
still fighting for their country. They're still trying to claw back captured territory. They're still taking and they're still inflicting
So whatever occurred in Russia this past weekend, did not change those facts. It didn't change the facts, for us, it didn't change those facts for
Ukraine. And they absolutely are not going to change our continued support. So with that, I have to take a few questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What implications do you expect this episode to have on Wagner's power and ability both inside Ukraine as a fighting force? Can it
continue to be a fighting force inside Ukraine? But also more broadly, in Africa, where there -- they have a big footprint? Where does Wagner do you
think go from here? Do you have any early read on that?
KIRBY: No, we don't. And we don't know the answer to your question. It's just too soon to know. We recognize that Wagner still has a presence in
Africa. I think you know we have worked a whole Wagner accountable. They are listed as a trans-national criminal organization. We have sanctioned
them. We will continue to take those actions that are appropriate to try to limit their ability to continue to sow chaos and violence wherever it is.
But it's just too soon to know after the weekend's events where Wagner goes as an entity or where Mr. Prigozhin goes in terms of his leadership of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know where Prigozhin is?
KIRBY: I don't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ukraine is warning that Russia has completed preparations to potentially blow up the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
Is that your assessment as well?
KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific intelligence. I will tell you that we're watching this very closely, seen that reporting. Where, we have,
as you know, the ability near the plant to monitor or radio activity. And we just haven't seen any indication that, that threat is imminent, but
we're watching it very closely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And more broadly, as Secretary Blinken said, this has exposed cracks in Putin's power. How concerned are you that Putin could
now be more desperate, more unpredictable to the point that he could take more extreme measures to try and maintain his grip on power?
KIRBY: Yes, I won't speak for Vladimir Putin or hypothesize about what next steps he might take or might not take. I think it's important to take
a step back here, and remember that the Russians still have tens of thousands of troops inside Ukraine. And that, as I said in my opening
statement, there are still active fighting going on. The Ukrainians are still trying to claw back territory.
The Russians are still vigorously trying to defend against those efforts by the Ukrainians, and casualties are being taken even as you and I are
talking. And I think it's important to remember that. So what we're going to stay focused on is making sure that Ukraine can continue to succeed on
the battlefield, and not speculate about what this might or might not do on the political spectrum inside Russia, as President Biden said very well
earlier, this is an internal matter for the Russian system.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, do you see President Putin as being weakened as a result of this event over the weekend?
KIRBY: Again, we're focused on what's going on in Ukraine. This is an internal Russian matter. And I think it's important to remember that Mr.
Putin still commands a very large and a very capable military. And the bulk of that military is across the border in Ukraine. And that military is
defending itself against Ukrainian attacks, and we've got to stay focused on what really matters mostly in front of us. And that's helping Ukraine
succeed on the battlefield, and that's what we're here to do --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were U.S.-Russian military, some military contacts over this?
KIRBY: All I can tell you is that we, through various diplomatic channels, conveyed those messages to Russia directly. One that there was no U.S.
involvement here, nor will -- nor will there be or would there be. And that we expect Russia to observe its obligations, its international obligations
for the protection of diplomatic personnel inside Moscow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, just in the last follow up on that, do you have any indication that Russia thinks that the U.S. or West, NATO, et
cetera were involved?
KIRBY: Well, I can't begin to speculate what Russians think or what Mr. Putin thinks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Says even after --
KIRBY: Because --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president --
KIRBY: Yes, look, we saw -- we saw some social media activity by Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov who seem to allude that some sort of investigation was
in the offing at the suspicion of the involvement of western intelligence services. And I think we can all spare Mr. Lavrov the effort by just making
it clear, there was no U.S. involvement whatsoever, no western involvement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to follow up as well, given the emphasis both you and the president have made today, do you think that, that issue of
U.S. involvement or ability to know that something was going to happen in advance, contribute to the instability of the moment.
KIRBY: That we're all concerned by any potential for instability in Russia given the stakes and given what's going on in Ukraine. And I'm not going to
talk about intelligence matters one way or the other here. The rift between Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group, and the Russian Ministry of Defense was
-- Ministry of Defense was playing out in public for all of you to see.
The tensions, the frustrations, the anger, the accusations all played out publicly. That, that was no secret whatsoever. Now, what that tension does
inside Russia, again, that's an internal Russian matter. What we've got to do is not get distracted by that and make sure that we're focused on
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to follow up on a different subject briefly. At the question and answer event with the president and Prime Minister
Modi, our colleague Sabrina Siddiqui of the "Wall Street Journal" asked a question of the prime minister, and since that time, she's been subjected
to some intense online harassment from people inside India.
Some of them are politicians, they have associations with the Modi government. And in part, they've been targeting her because of her Muslim
faith and questioning her own heritage. Because this was supposed to be about democracy, and in some form, wanted to find out what is the White
House's reaction to the fact that journalist posing a question to a democratic leader is getting that kind of pushback?
KIRBY: We're aware of the reports of that harassment. It's unacceptable. And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere, under any
circumstances. That's just as complete unacceptable, as antithetical to the very principles of democracy that you're right, were on display last week
during the state visit.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guy Richard(ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. And so Kirby, do you agree that the counteroffensive, the Ukraine counteroffensive has gone more slowly than
expected than -- do you -- or do you analyze that concerning the Wagner Group will be busy doing something else that it will help this
KIRBY: I don't know what the Wagner Group is going to be busy doing here. Again, I think it's too soon to -- Amara's(ph) question, it's just too soon
to know how this is going to play out whether in Africa or elsewhere and certainly in Ukraine. And I am not -- I have said before, and I'll say it
again today, I'm not going to do armchair quarterback on the counteroffensive from this podium.
That's up to President Zelenskyy to speak to. They -- our focus is making sure that they have what they need to succeed, whether it's training tools,
equipment, you're going to see another round of support announced from this administration for Ukraine in terms of weapons and capabilities this week.
So we're focused on that, that's what -- that's where our heads are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just to make sure, Kirby, that I understand well, the NSC, how much did the NSC knew about the development, the development
of this -- of this Wagner movement towards Moscow before it started?
KIRBY: Yes, as I think I mentioned to Kelly(ph), the dispute and the tension between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense was widely
known. It was probably --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was rolling towards Moscow?
KIRBY: It was all that tension was public. I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll get that, and then we'll go to the back, OK? Those --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you gentleman, thank you for doing this. So what should we call what transpired over the weekend? Is it a mutiny? A coup or
attempted coup, an armed rebellion?
KIRBY: We're not slapping a bumper sticker on it, Ed(ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a U.S. assessment, was the objective ever really to directly threaten Putin or the Kremlin?
KIRBY: I'm sorry, can you say that again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the U.S.' assessment, was it ever the Wagner Group's intent to directly target Putin or the Kremlin?
KIRBY: Again, I would let the party speak for themselves here in terms of what transpired and what motivations there were for these actions. That's
not something that we could accurately or even appropriately speak to. What I can to is, we make sure that we latched up early, and have stayed latched
up with our allies and partners, to make sure we all have the same kind of perspective on this and we're approaching it from the same way.
And that we made appropriate communications with the Russians about their obligations to protect our diplomats. And to make sure that they knew we
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were describing early attempts to communicate the Russians about what happened. Did they respond in real-time to any of that
KIRBY: There were appropriate diplomatic discussions that occurred over the course of the weekend. Again, to send those two messages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, is the U.S. confident the Russians will be responsive in the event of a nuclear or other real crisis, given how they
were this weekend?
KIRBY: I will just tell you that, and this has been the case for the last 16 months. I mean, Russia is a nuclear power that we have been monitoring
as best we can Russian strategic posture, their nuclear capabilities, that continues. And we've seen no indication outside of the blustery rhetoric.
We've seen no indication that there's any intent to use nuclear weapons inside Ukraine.
And I can also assure you that we've done nothing. We've seen nothing that would -- that would compel us to change our own strategic deterrent
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, just given how the interactions went over the weekend, you're confident they responded in real-time if there was some
other kind --
KIRBY: We had -- we had good, direct communications with the Russians over the course of the weekend. It's our expectations that, that will be able to
continue moving forward.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a banter, real quick. Given all that interaction this weekend which you guys have seen, can you say right now who's in
charge of the Russian military?
KIRBY: The Russian military -- I mean, first of all, I wouldn't -- it's not my job to speak for another military. But there is absolutely no
indication that there's been any changes that we've seen in the chain of command for the Russian military forces.
JEAN-PIERRE: John Oliver(ph) --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Karine. John, the NATO Summit is just a few weeks away. How have the events of this past week in any way changed or
modified the agenda for the NATO Summit?
KIRBY: I think it's again too soon here. This just happened over the weekend. So I think I'd be fife into if I told you that there was some sort
of big agenda item changed because of what happened over the weekend. We'll have to see how this plays out. It's just too soon to know what the impacts
are. It's going to be an important NATO Summit regardless.
Because we are now almost a year and a half into war here in Ukraine. We've got a new NATO member in Finland, and hopefully soon, a 32nd member. So
there's an awful lot on the agenda to speak to and it's a critical time for the alliance the president is looking forward to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Administration subscribe to the view as it relates to Russian leadership who essentially leads that country. The devil you know
is better than the devil that you don't know.
KIRBY: I'm not sure I completely understand the question. But let me tack it this way, and if I'm wrong --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
KIRBY: Because then you lost me there a little bit about the devil, so --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm sorry to get into that. I was just simply saying, would you prefer to have Vladimir Putin leading Russia for an
entity like the Wagner Group or someone named from the Wagner Group leading the Russian government?
KIRBY: We believe it's up to the Russian people to determine who their leadership is. And we would prefer to see Russia not invade their
neighboring countries. We would prefer to see Russia since they already did that remove all their troops from Ukraine and end the war today, which they
could do. That's what we prefer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, you said a number of times you declined to comment on the group's grip on power in Russia by saying it's an internal
Russian matter. Is that a deliberate decision by the U.S. government to avoid contributing to the notion that the U.S. was somehow behind this? Or
does the White House simply not have an assessment at this moment of his grip on power?
KIRBY: We're just not going to involve ourselves in speaking to an internal domestic Russian issue right now. We're staying focused on
supporting Ukraine. And I just want to disavow you of any idea that the reason why we're saying we weren't involved has something to do with not
wanting to comment about the situation in Moscow and Mr. Putin's leadership.
It was important to say it for the -- on the face of it, that we weren't involved, we have no intention of being involved. What we are going to be
involved in is supporting Ukraine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then, there's been, you know, Brent and crude this morning, there was a higher European natural gas prices. How closely is the
administration monitoring a potential energy price shock as a result of the instability in Russia?
KIRBY: Been watching it since the beginning of the war, actually before the beginning of the war and we'll continue to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John, I want to kind of get into the leads from off of Jeff's(ph) question on weakness. Are you concerned about the instability
in Russia because of the nuclear capability if they have to come out stronger, they could use that as that the reason for your concern about
KIRBY: I think you've got to take a broader view of that, April. I mean, the reason we will be concerned about instability in Russia is the war in
Ukraine predominantly. Yes, Russia is a nuclear power, and yes, that's of concern. Yes, we continue to monitor that. But I mean, I just think If you
-- if you look at the scope of recent events, again, over the past year and a half, there's a lot of reasons to be concerned about stability in
And the impact that, that could have on the Ukrainian people and on the European continent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you said over the last year and a half, going back to adjust that, this administration acknowledged that they were shocked
that it took Russia so long. They have not shown to be the power, the military might that everyone thought they were. And then what happens this
Does it show cracks in Russia's military might, who they are as we perceive that?
KIRBY: Yes, again, I'm not going to -- we're not going to characterize the events of the weekend, or be able to contextualize it for you beyond what
we said before. It's just too soon to know what impacts this is going to have on Ukraine, and on Russia, quite frankly throughout Europe. It's just
too soon to know. But broadly-speaking, I mean, we're now in 16 months of war.
A war that was advertised by the Russian side as only going to be taking a few days. And now we're 16 months into it. Now, clearly, we don't need me
to tell you the history of this conflict has shown that the Russian military is not as vaunted as perhaps they wanted to characterize
themselves as. But, and this is a big "but" --
SOARES: We're keeping an ear up of course, for what we're hearing in the White House. I want to bring you up to-date on what we've heard in the last
few minutes. We've heard that President Putin is due to make a number of important statements this evening. This news -- breaking news coming to us
from Dmitry Peskov, the Russia spokesperson, Putin is going to make a number of important statements this evening.
Of course, we do not know whether he'll broach the subject of what unfolded over the last 48 hours or so. We saw him earlier today, a taped video which
he didn't -- where he didn't even mention it. We are also expecting to hear from the Belarusian president as well this evening. So we're keeping a
close eye for when that unfold, and when we get that statement. In the meantime, let's take you back to the White House.
KIRBY: Internal matter, the president is going to make sure that we're staying focused on Ukraine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You did say there, on March 2022, for God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.
KIRBY: Regime change --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this might have changed that.
KIRBY: Regime change is not our policy, we've been very clear about that. What we're focused on is making sure Ukraine can succeed on the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like when he was getting the hour-to-hour updates?
KIRBY: Look, I wasn't with the president when he was getting these, so I'm not sure I'm qualified to speak to his demeanor. As you know, the president
very keenly tracks foreign policy development around the world. His national security team was giving him updates literally hour by hour
throughout the weekend. And he was absorbing all that information and making sure that in the context of absorbing it, he was also sharing our
perspectives with allies and partners.
And as I said, those conversations, they -- it wasn't just one and done. He's had several over the course of the last couple of days and you're
going to see that continue going forward.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One last word on the conversations with our allies, you had said, we were not going to get involved in these events, we would
not at any point. But if this had turned to a nuclear situation, what was the conversation with our allies about how that would be addressed?
KIRBY: I wouldn't speculate on hypotheticals, Jackie. I wouldn't get into hypotheticals. They were talking about the situation as we were seeing it
unfold. They were communicating with each other, our allies and partners, about their perspectives, what they were seeing, what we were seeing,
sharing as much context as we could, and making sure that we all had sort of the same sight picture. And that we were basically all reacting in real-
time in roughly the same way, it was important for that to be the case. And so that's really where the focus was.
On the nuclear thing, I mean, again, I'm not going to hypothesize here, but we continue to watch this very, very closely. We've seen a lot of reckless
rhetoric coming out of the Russian side, we watch it closely, we just have seen no indication that Mr. Putin has any intention of using nuclear
weapons inside Ukraine or anywhere else, for that matter. And I can assure you, we have done nothing to change our own strategic deterrent posture
when it comes to that to that potential threat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, just on the Prigozhin status, does the U.S. have any assessment on whether his safety was insured as part of this deal or is
there a belief that his life could be in jeopardy?
KIRBY: We don't know the parameters of this deal. We weren't a party to it and pointed to the parties to it, to speak to the details of it. We just
don't have visibility on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm interested, in terms of the war itself, do you have an assessment of just how much to what extent the Wagner's forces have
been deluding in Ukraine and what that might mean for Ukrainian troops?
KIRBY: Deluded with a "D" or diluted with a "T?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a "T." This in terms of the size of the force in Ukraine now as opposed to --
KIRBY: Oh, being siphoned off?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly.
KIRBY: Yes. it's unclear right now where the bulk of the Wagner forces are. I mean, we've seen some reporting, mostly through press and social media,
that many of them moved back across into Ukraine. But we're not in a position to verify or validate those reports. It's really unclear where
they all are, and where they all might go or what they might do in terms of the future.
It's undisputed, of course, undisputed, of course, that Wagner played a role, particularly in the fight for Bakhmut, that they were reinforced by
Russian military forces, and that had a major factor on their ability to take that down. But as I have said many, many times, I mean, Wagner's
approach here was just to throw bodies at the fight, largely ill-trained, ill-equipped, and poorly-led, but just body after body after body, and they
suffered a lot. Tens of thousands of casualties just taking Bakhmut, all for a town, which I've also said, didn't have any strategic value to the
Russians one way or another.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you confirm that Mr. Prigozhin is in Belarus as Sen. Warnock seem to indicate?
KIRBY: I cannot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Can you give us your assessment of the group? Can it survive without him or do you think that he was a central figure that he
was able to control all its operation when it's in Ukraine or Africa?
KIRBY: He can give you the same answer he gave on it. It's just too soon to know what the future of Wagner is going to be. We're going to stay focused
on the group, of course. We have to. They do operate outside of Ukraine. And we have levied lots of sanctions against them, and we'll continue to
hold them accountable as appropriate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, John. Earlier today, President Biden said that he would be speaking with additional heads of state this afternoon. I wonder
if you can give us any details about who the substance, the timbre of those conversations' about, whether what he's trying to convey today is different
or evolving from what he's trying to --
KIRBY: The call that he was alluding to earlier is to the Prime Minister of Italy, Prime Minister Meloni, and that call should be taking place just
about now. We'll give you a readout when it's over, but it'll be very much in keeping with the kinds of readouts you've seen over the last 48 hours.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, General.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, Prigozhin, in his first message since all this came down -- went down said that he wanted to avoid Russian bloodshed and
that he marched in a demonstration of protest, not to overturn power in the country. Does the U.S. buy that?
KIRBY: We're not taking a position on Mr. Prigozhin's motivations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And then secondly, has the U.S. been able to corroborate the allegations that Prigozhin made that he says we're the
pretext for this attempted insurrection? He said that 30 Wagner fighters died after Russian military attacked on their position on Friday.
KIRBY: I cannot confirm those reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then lastly, do you have any -- I know you've said that you have no idea where Prigozhin is right now, is that correct?
KIRBY: That's correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your sense of where this goes? Do you believe that this is over now that his attempted insurrection failed?
It's not going to restart again, or are you still monitoring for the possibility that Wagner fighters might attempt something like this again?
KIRBY: We don't know. We don't know where this goes, or whether this is really the end, which is why we are going to continue to monitor it and why
the President is still getting routinely updated and will in the coming days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And very quickly, do you have any sense of whether Ukraine was able to take advantage of this chaos over the weekend?
KIRBY: I'm not sure what you mean by take advantage of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take advantage of it from the military standpoint, in terms of their offensive in the east of Ukraine.
KIRBY: Again, I will let the Ukrainian speak to their military operations. All I would say, and it's why I wanted to put it right up top when I
started here, is that there's a lot of fighting going on in the east and south of Ukraine. They are still trying to get a territory back from the
Russians and they are still inflicting and taking casualties. So, the fight goes on.
Now, how much and to what degree? In any given area, that fighting was adjusted or changed, slowed down or sped up as a result of the weekend, I
just couldn't speak to it. Certainly nothing discernible from our perspective. But, again, the Ukrainians would have to speak to their
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Earlier today, the president said that --
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: If you are just joining us, let me bring you up to date with what we've been hearing in the past 35 minutes, a very busy top
of the show. We have heard already tonight from John Kirby, you saw that the White House, but also earlier from the U.S. State Department, and that
was from Matthew Miller. Let me just bring you up-to-date what we heard from John Kirby. He said that, "What we've seen in the past 36 hours in
Russia, it was an internal matter." And he said, "The U.S. has -- was not involved and will not get involved."
This message, he said, has been delivered to Moscow through diplomatic channels. He also went on to say the whatever occurred in Russia did not
change what is unfolding in Ukraine. Ukraine very much still fighting, of course, for its own sovereignty. And the importance here is to continue
that support, the ally support and the U.S. support. "We are focused," he said, "on helping Ukraine succeed. We shouldn't get distracted, and we
should continue supporting Ukraine."
He also was peppered with letters. You could hear there were questions about Prigozhin, what does this mean for the Wagner Group as well as
Prigozhin in terms of the entity. He wouldn't -- he said it was too soon to see how it played out. He couldn't tell us where exactly Prigozhin was.
Similar questions that we've heard also from the U.S. State Department, calling this significant step by Prigozhin, but earned a new thing, they
said, to see Mr. Putin's leadership directly challenged.
So lots of questions. We've got a panel just to try to get to the bottom of these questions. Our Ben Wedeman's following this story tonight from
eastern Ukraine. We're also joined by CNN's Senior Global Affairs Analyst, Bianna Golodryga in New York, and CNN National Security Reporter, Natasha
And we heard, really, in those two press conferences, questions over what this means for Ukraine, Ben, what this means, Bianna, for Putin, and really
his power, and also questions on intelligence and what this means for the allies. So, first to you, Ben, I mean, many questions about Prigozhin's
whereabouts, what this means for the Wagner forces. We have heard from Prigozhin this 11-minute audio file. What do you make of his explanation
and reasoning as to why he pulled it off?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said he did it. He turned around on his so-called March for Justice in order to avoid a
Russian bloodshed. Now, this entire episode is shrouded with mystery, Isa. So, it's very hard to tell exactly what was going on, what his motivations
were. He said that, on July 1st, the Russian Defense Ministry was essentially going to liquidate the Wagner group and that was probably part
of his, at least as far as we know, his motivation for engaging in this mutiny of sorts.
But the question is, there's so many questions now, where is he? What is his fate going to be? Now on Saturday evening, we heard Dmitry Peskov, the
Kremlin spokesman, saying that all charges were dropped against him. And now we're hearing that, no, in fact, he's still under investigation for
this mutiny, so his whereabouts, and indeed his very fate, is very much up in the air now.
Just coming out of that briefing by Admiral Kirby in the White House, what struck me is what he said. He said that despite what happened over the
weekend in Russia, the facts don't change. And here in Ukraine, certainly, the facts haven't changed. The fight goes on. It's extremely difficult. And
the Ukrainians are trying as hard as they can to make progress. But even we heard from the deputy defense minister, but that that progress is proving
to be very, very difficult, Isa.
SOARES: And Ben, we don't know Prigozhin's whereabouts. What about the Wagner forces? Do we know where they are? Or they're in Belarus and they've
gone back into Ukraine. What are you hearing?
WEDEMAN: This worry about what about the Wagner forces? We know where they are?
Or they're in Belarus or they've gone back into Ukraine? What are you hearing?
WEDEMAN: Well, understand that they pulled back out of Rostov-on-Don, and that other town on the way to Moscow. We've also seen reports that Wagner
recruitment offices are back in action. So according to Prigozhin, I think he said in his audio statement, perhaps one or two percent of the Wagner
fighters had actually signed up with the defense ministry.
As far as the others go, we simply don't know. The Russians are being very, very opaque about the fate of it. And clearly, these are experienced
fighters we saw in Bakhmut where they led the fight for 10 months, that these guys, even speaking with Ukrainian troops, that the Wagner
mercenaries, many of them are experienced professional soldiers and managed after 10 very long months to take the town of Bakhmut, something the
ordinary Russian army could not do, Isa.
SOARES: And Bianna, in the last, what, 10 minutes or so, we have heard from Dmitry Peskov, the Russian spokesperson, who said that Putin's going to
make a number of important statements this evening. What does he need to say this evening, Bianna?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, listen, Isa, I would take everything that Dmitry Peskov says with a grain of salt. It
would appear that Russia and the Kremlin, at least, was hoping to make this appear like there was nothing to see here over the weekend and that things
were back to normal and that they no longer viewed Yevgeny Prigozhin or his accolades as traitors. Now things' completely taken a 180 once again, and
it's clear that more needs to be heard from Vladimir Putin, whether or not this will be a taped announcement, or something that he will be delivering
live. I believe it is well past 9:30 in Russia in Moscow time.
He is known to be delivering these speeches late in the past. He is a bit of a night owl. But whether he comments on the state of the Wagner Group
and whether they continue to hold on to that missive, that as of July 2nd, it will fall under the auspices and control of the Ministry of Defense,
that is something that we'll be waiting to hear the whereabouts of Yevgeny Prigozhin. I'm not sure Vladimir Putin will address that. I don't believe
that he even mentioned him by name over the weekend.
But I also am curious to hear if any announcements are made in terms of leadership changes of the war itself, whether Valery Gerasimov will remain
in his position, whether defense minister Shoigu will remain in his position as well. This is a bit of a conundrum that Vladimir Putin finds
himself in. I think it's pretty safe to call it an objective view that they have not been conducting this war effectively.
That having been said, Vladimir Putin has been known to value loyalty as opposed to any sort of execution of orders. So, we'll see. And if that does
change, it will look like perhaps another sign of weakness that Vladimir Putin may be acquiescing to some of Yevgeny Prigozhin's demands.
SOARES: We shall keep an ear out, of course, for what comes out, of course, with that statement from Putin.
Natasha, to you, I mean, we heard from John Kirby saying that he wouldn't characterize or contextualize what has unfolded in Russia in the last 36
hours or so. But, you know, he -- and he was asked several times questions in terms of how much the U.S. knew in terms of intelligence. What is the
sentiment in from the United States? How do they interpret this? And also from -- the message to its allies here?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, U.S. officials are very confident that they actually had a pretty good picture of what Yevgeny
Prigozhin was going to do. And they had signals that he was planning to challenge Russia's military leadership leading up to the actual rebellion
Now, it was unclear at the time, just how far he would be willing to go. And, of course, something that caught us officials very much off-guard was
the lack of resistance that Wagner actually faced from Russian troops on the ground. They expected a lot more blood and they expected a lot more
violence, especially as he marched towards Moscow.
And so what U.S. officials now are watching for is does Yevgeny Prigozhin actually remain in Belarus? Does he try to reconstitute Wagner Group there
or is he simply going to allow Wagner to be absorbed by the Russian Ministry of Defense? From his statement that he made today, it does not
sound like he is going to do that because as was mentioned earlier, it appears that only a small percentage of Wagner forces actually agreed to
sign those contracts with the Ministry of Defense.
But U.S. officials broadly, they did not necessarily share this intelligence with a large amount of allies because it was very sensitive.
And they did not want to seem as though the U.S. intelligence community or the U.S. writ large was playing any kind of role here in this insurrection.
And that is a message that ultimately, when this all played out on Friday, the allies came together and agreed upon. They did not want to give
Vladimir Putin any kind of fodder to be able to say that this was a U.S.- backed or NATO-backed operation, Isa.
SOARES: Natasha for us there at the State Department, Bianna Golodryga and Ben Wedeman, thank you very much to you.
Now, one of the big unknowns is how, of course the insurrection in Russia will affect the battlefield in Ukraine. Kyiv says it has gained new ground
around the brutality fought over, of course, the city of Bakhmut. The Wagner group, as you all know, played a key role there. And, today, the
Ukrainians say President Zelenskyy visited troops in the country's Eastern Donetsk region. What is the impact then of the Wagner revolt in Russia for
the ongoing war in Ukraine?
To discuss, this Ukrainian Economist, Tymofiy Mylovanov, a very known face here in the show. Tymofiy, great to have you here in London. And let me get
then your -- this was asked several times of the U.S. State Department, John Kirby, how will this then impact what we have seen, the turmoil we
have seen in Russia in the past 36 hours? How will that change the battlefield, let's say in Ukraine? Will it change at all?
TYMOFIY MYLOVANOV, UKRAINIAN ECONOMIST: Probably it will. One main message or conclusion for the war in Ukraine is apply pressure to Russia, and it
will start cracking. Things will start happening. But in some sense, it's a win-win situation for Ukraine. Either Prigozhin will be killed, or
prosecuted, maybe politically killed, or maybe even literally, or it shows that Putin is weak.
And either way, that demonstrates that not everything is, you know, as solid, and as strong as Putin tries to portray. So, morale will be lower.
And if we keep pushing, amplify the conflicts within the military of Russia, there will be opportunities for Ukraine.
SOARES: So in light of that, Tymofiy, I mean, how is Ukraine then exploiting that on those frontlines? Is Ukraine already starting to see the
movement of troops because of what we've seen? What intelligence are you gathering on this?
MYLONANOV: So Ukraine is careful, because, you know, if we rush into the situation, we might actually lose a lot of people, because it's not just
weapons or equipment, it's people's lives. So, we have to be very, very careful.
But every time something like that happens, in Russia, we actually see movements of the troops, we see locations, we see where the weapons are
located, where the commanders are. And we can either deploy intelligence to subvert them, or we can target using long-range weapons. So, it's a
combination of movements at the frontlines, and trying to deny Russia the ability to maintain warfare.
SOARES: Tymofiy, great to have you on the show. Thank you very much.
We're going to take a short break. We'll be back after this.
SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. Well, to understand what happened in Russia this weekend, we need to take a step back and cross the border into
Ukraine. Just months ago, the Wagner paramilitary group was fighting in Bakhmut, a battle called the Meat Grinder. The group's founder, Yevgeny
Prigozhin, attacked Russian generals for not giving him enough support, threatening to withdraw his forces. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, FOUNDER, WAGNER GROUP (through translator): You think you are the masters of this life? You think you can dispose of their lives?
You think because you have warehouses full of ammunition that you have that right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, the Ukrainian side eventually lost the city last month. Prigozhin said victory came at a price. More than 20,000 Wagner forces, but
instead of sending more resources, on June the 10th, the Russian Defense Ministry puts out an order that would have put Wagner fighters under
Moscow's control and for Prigozhin, that was out of the question. Then last week, the public feud between the Kremlin and Prigozhin takes, well, a
dramatic turn when the Wagner chief openly accuses Russia's military of attacking a Wagner camp and killing, "A huge amount of his men." This is
what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRIGOZHIN (through translator): Those who destroyed our guys today, along with tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers, will be punished. I
ask no one to put up any resistance. Justice for the troops will be restored and then justice for all of Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, on Saturday, he delivers on that promise. Wagner forces take over military facilities in Rostov-on-Don that play a major part, of
course, in Russia's war on Ukraine. Prigozhin puts out a video with the two most senior military commanders in that city. And calls Russian generals,
"Geriatric clowns." Wagner forces then begin their march, of course, towards Moscow, and that's when Vladimir Putin breaks his silence about the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Well, later on Saturday, Wagner claims to capture key military facilities in Voronezh, but as soon as the mercenaries make it halfway to
Moscow, Prigozhin says he's turning them around, ending a lightning insurrection almost as quickly as it started. Belarus announced its
President, Alexander Lukashenko, played the role of peacemaker, drawing on his personal relationship with Prigozhin to negotiate a deal between the
Wagner leader and President Putin. Prigozhin now saying he agrees to call off the insurrection and go to Belarus to avoid spilling more Russian
Joining me now is Nigel Gould-Davies. He's a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and a former
British ambassador to Belarus. Great to have you on the show, Nigel.
Look, let me start off with what we heard in the past, what, 30, 40 minutes, that we are expecting to hear from President Putin today,
important statements. What do you think he needs to say at this juncture? Because clearly his authority has been put into question.
NIGEL GOULD-DAVIES, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO BELARUS: That's absolutely right. He needs to assert a confidence sense of leadership once again.
Moscow is in a state of panic on Saturday, and the authorities there imposing desperate Measures that appear to anticipate the successful
arrival of the Wagner convoy and the prospects of real serious violence in Russia's capital. That was a searing moment.
Putin was almost nowhere in that, apart from that short and very unconvincing address that he gave on Saturday, he was absent from the
scene, he now needs to try to restore a degree of authority to convey a sense that he once -- he's, once again, in charge. Because all of the
chatter now, all of the rumors and the worry and discussions on social media and beyond, are wondering what this means for Russia.
The narrative that seems to set in almost everywhere is that this has been a profoundly damaging role to Putin's authority. So, he will try to
SOARES: And what is then -- this is something that we heard many questions asked today at the White House and the State Department, the White House,
asking what this means for Prigozhin, what this means for the Wagner group is an entity. Of course, we do not know besides that 11-minute audio that
we mentioned today, we do not know when that was recorded, we do not know where he is. How do you see the Wagner forces and the future of Prigozhin
here? He's supposed to be going to Belarus.
GOULD-DAVIES: There are different and contradictory signs so far. Prigozhin appears, in the short-term, to believe that he is save, that whatever deal
was negotiated very quickly, and again under situate -- a situation of extreme pressure on all sides, appears to have included his safe passage to
Belarus. The signs then were that the charges of treason, no less, that had been opened against a Prigozhin had been dropped. We now hear signs they've
been restored --
SOARES: Correct. Yes.
GOULD-DAVIES: -- again. So his future, has to be said, appears uncertain. We know from Putin's past record that he will go to enormous lengths to
hunt down and try to kill those he considers traitors, whether that's some -- an exiled Russian in 2006 with polonium in London, whether it's Sergei
Skripal in 2018, these were all gone after because they were traitors. Prigozhin is much closer, his neighboring Belarus, I don't think he can be
SOARES: So what does that mean that in terms of Wagner forces? Who do they answer to in that case, Nigel? I mean, do they sign contracts with the
Russian army or how --
GOULD-DAVIES: That's what -- the future of Wagner itself is also uncertain, and contradictory voices coming out of Russia about, you know, how this
On the one hand, yes, the demand which Putin had made with Shoigu, the Defense Minister a few weeks ago, that Wagner forces signed a contract,
essentially subordinating them to the regular armed forces, that would mean the end of Wagner.
But other people say, including in the Russian Duma, the parliament saying, well, no, actually we need to preserve Wagner. They perform useful
functions. You simply need to regulate the way they operate with a proper law on so-called private military companies.
But whether that happens, it has important implications for what is a very far-flung empire of blood and treasure, including a substantial (INAUDIBLE)
SOARES: Nigel, wish we had more time. Very busy hour. I appreciate you coming in. Thank you very much.
Of course, we'll keep you posted when we hear from, of course, President Putin, who's expected to make a number of important statements that --
coming from Dmitry Peskov. We'll bring you that as soon as we get it.
For now though, that's it for us. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS," Richard Quest is up next, I'll see you tomorrow. Bye-bye.