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The Situation Room
Putin Speaks For First Time About Armed Mutiny; Wagner Boss Claims March Wasn't A Move To Oust Putin; Biden Says, West Had Nothing To Do With Russian Revolt; Multinational Probes Of Sub Implosion Under Way; Remembering Innovative CNN Exec David Bohrman. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 26, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt in for Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.
ALEX MARQUARDT CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Vladimir Putin just spoke publicly for the first time about the armed mutiny by Wagner mercenary forces, the Russian president showing his face and blasting rebel leaders as traitors amid questions about his own grip on power.
This comes as Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin now claimed that the aborted armed march to Moscow was not a moved to oust Putin. Prigozhin's whereabouts are unknown at this hour, adding to the uncertainty about the fallout from the revolt and what might happened next.
And here in Washington, President Joe Biden says the United States and the west has nothing to do with the Wagner rebellion. Now, CNN now learning that the U.S. had detailed intelligence on the plans for the mutiny but kept it secret from most of its allies.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt, and you're in The Situation Room.
We are following fast-moving development in the aftermath of the armed mutiny that posed a serious and surprising threat to Vladimir Putin's regime. Putin going public just a short time ago blasting the rebels as traitors as he attempted to show Russia and the world that he is still in control.
CNN's Ben Wedeman has been covering it all and what it could mean for the war in Ukraine.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, Vladimir Putin lashes out at those who led an armed rebellion against him.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: An armed rebellion would have been suppressed in any case. The organizers of the rebellion could not fail to understand this. They understood everything, including that they resorted to criminal acts to divide and weaken the country, which is now confronting a colossal external threat and unprecedented pressure from outside.
WEDEMAN: In his address to the nation, Putin also thanked the fighters of the Wagner private military company who stood down and repeated his offer for them to join the Russian Defense Ministry.
PUTIN: I thank those soldiers and commanders of the Wagner group who made the only right decision. They did not go for the fratricidal bloodshed. They stopped at the last line.
WEDEMAN: But he avoided of saying the name of the man who led the mutiny, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. In a new audio message, Prigozhin with his exact whereabouts unknown, called his march to Moscow a protest, and said he called it off to avoid Russian bloodshed.
He also noted the Russian defense ministry had plans for Wagner to cease to exist in July, and his movement was designed to preserve his private military company.
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, HEAD OF WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY: The purpose of the march was to prevent the destruction of the Wagner PMC and the prosecution of those who made a huge number of mistakes in the course of the special military operation due to their unprofessional actions. The society demanded this. All the soldiers who's saw us supported us.
WEDEMAN: Prigozhin has said he is heading to Belarus, whose leader brokered a deal, allowing the Wagner chief to leave without penalty and go into exile. Russians on the street cheering him on like a hero as he drove away.
The defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, appearing on video for the first time since the mutiny, visiting Russian troops in Ukraine, the date the video was shot unknown.
In Ukraine, military leadership sought to use the chaos to their advantage, eager to accelerate the halting start of their counteroffensive. In the southeast, Ukrainian troops claimed to liberate a village of Rivnopil'. Ukrainian armed forces said they cleared the strategic Russian position on the western bank of Sivers'kyi, Donets-Donbas Canal. And in the long embattled town of Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops said they made gains on territory that Wagner fighters fought mercilessly to claim for months.
The battle in Bakhmut unfolded in close quarters among the trenches, some fighting even taking place at point-blank range, a Ukrainian commander said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the frontlines of Donetsk to praise the efforts of the troops to advance.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Ukraine is proud of each and every one of you. You are tough, strong, are real Ukrainians. Everyone in the country understands that you are with us. Those who are not on the frontline, everyone knows you are doing the most difficult work right now. (END VIDEOTAPE)
WEDEMAN (on camera): So far, the going is indeed tough. This evening, the deputy defense minister put out a statement on Telegram saying, our troops are really having a hard time. It is very difficult. She added, but we are moving ahead steadily.
MARQUARDT: Our thanks to Ben Wedeman for that report.
Let's bring in our military and Russia experts. Thank you all for joining us on this incredible story.
Jill Dougherty, I want to go to you first. The world was watching this first speech by Putin just a couple hours ago. He had been MIA. Did Putin accomplish anything from here, in here, in this speech aside from showing people that he's essentially still alive?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: I think that's very hard to judge because the two groups that he was talking to essentially are the members of Wagner, who now have a choice, according to Putin, join the military, go back to your families or go to Belarus. And we still don't know. I mean, Prigozhin is saying his men are sticking with him and that very few have decided to go into the military.
And then the other side is Putin wants to convince Russians everything's okay, everything's under control, the people were united. It reminded me of the old Soviet days when they said, you know, the state and the people are united. That's what Putin is trying to prove.
So, did he accomplish that? I think it's kind of dubious right now because Russians are very confused. And I don't think Putin really did much of anything other than to say, hey, be patriots and it will be okay.
MARQUARDT: It was a very, very short speech, and I want to play a little bit more of it. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN: The organizers of the rebellion betraying their country, their people, also betrayed those who were drawn into the crime. They lied to them, pushed them to death under fire to shoot at their own. We know now that the vast majority of the fighters and commanders of the Wagner Group are also Russian patriots, devoted to their people and state. They proved it with their courage on the battlefield.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Jill, back to you. That was somewhat forgiving. Do you think that this means that the Wagner Group is going to live on? Because Prigozhin certainly thinks he's going to be able to operate in some way out of Belarus.
DOUGHERTY: I don't think so. I mean, if you have 25,000, that's what Prigozhin claims, 25,000 really vicious and well-trained men, militia, running around in Russia, I can't imagine that Putin would want that to happen. And if they're in Belarus, it's kind -- it's under control of Russia, that also would be a threat.
So, I think he's saying this is the end. You've got three choices, take it and, you know, he didn't say what would happen. But he, in his previous speech a couple days ago, he did say that we will crush you. So, if that's the decision that they have to make.
MARQUARDT: And, Bianna Golodryga, we did hear from Yevgeny Prigozhin today. We didn't see him. But he did double down on that long-held criticism of his of the Russian Defense Ministry. So how significant is it that we then saw Putin meeting with the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, tonight?
GOLODRYGA: Well, I don't think it was an accident. You're right to pick up on that, that all of a sudden we saw video of them meeting. And what's happened in the past with these meetings and these videos of Putin, as you never know what is live or when something is taped. There have been instances in the past where something appeared to be live but then an eagle-eyed observer caught the time on people's watches and it was eight hours prior to that. Vladimir Putin even said today said, good day, and then he corrected himself and said good evening.
So, it was clear that they were meeting today. And it was to show the Russian public and it was to show the world, really, that he couldn't be pressured by Yevgeny Prigozhin to change leadership of the military, to change the defense minister, and as well as Valery Gerasimov, who was overseeing the war. No one can argue that they've done a good job in doing this. But, as you know, this is a president who values dedication and loyalty above all else. And this is a president who we saw tonight doubling down thus far, so far, and his support for his military leaders.
MARQUARDT: And, General Mark Hertling, Putin referenced tonight fallen pilots. We have images of a crash site. You can see it there, reportedly a Russian military plane that was taken down by Wagner forces over the weekend. So, Yevgeny Prigozhin does appear to have killed Russian troops. General, do you see a world in which Putin simply lets Prigozhin go live in exile in Belarus?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't, Alex. And what we're talking about, we have the film of the one aircraft. Open source intelligence says there were somewhere between six and eight with multiple pilots being killed.
That's an air attack by Mr. Prigozhin's Wagner Group against the Russian Air Force because they had air defense equipment in that march with them. But in addition to that, there have been multiple occasions where the Wagner Group has engaged ground forces of the Russian force.
[18:10:02] So, we have a combination of this private military company engaging the Russians in both Ukraine and in Russia. And it is really just -- as I've said before, these folks are criminal thugs and, in some cases, interspersed with some military capabilities. But we're going to see more of this.
I'm not sure Prigozhin is done. But it's fascinating to me how in that six-minute speech that Mr. Putin gave, that he went back and forth between the heroes of the Wagner Group while at the same time not condemning the leader of the Wagner group, who he condemned the other day during the whole campaign.
So, there's just so much that is typically Russian in the way this approaches. And if I may add one more thing, you mentioned Shoigu before. Shoigu is martinet. He is not a military leader. He is not well liked by most of the generals in the Russian military. So, the combination of most of the generals disliking him and Prigozhin absolutely detesting him is going to have -- is going to force Putin into some tough decisions.
MARQUARDT: And, Colonel Matt Dimmick, we have seen many Russians who have challenged Putin in the past die mysteriously. But is it a different situation here with Prigozhin, who has done so much fighting in Ukraine and elsewhere, and we then saw him cheered on the streets of Rostov?
COL. MATT DIMMICK (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Yes, it's really a unique situation with Prigozhin. He's unique in the band of people that Putin has labeled as a traitor. Usually, if Putin labels you as a traitor, that's it, you pretty much have a death sentence if Putin can get his hands on you or if you're within the reach of his security services.
Prigozhin is a little bit more complicated figure because he's got a ton of resources that actually help the Russian government in many places and many continents, in the Middle East and Africa and otherwise.
So, I think Putin has to be a little bit careful in how he deals with Prigozhin because, as he saw when Prigozhin was somewhat welcomed with open arms there in Rostov and in Voronezh, he's dealing with someone that's got a little bit of popular groundswell support.
So, he can't mishandle it but he certainly is not afraid of taking on Prigozhin. And if he needs to snip Prigozhin in the bud, he'll do it and reap the consequences later.
MARQUARDT: Yes, we certainly to have to remember that Wagner is a sprawling enterprise.
Bianna, Prigozhin says this was not an effort to overturn power in Russia. He says that this was a march for justice. But by attacking the entire premise for the war in Ukraine by suggesting that President Putin has been lied to by his military leadership, isn't that undermining Putin?
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I think that was a step too far even from Vladimir Putin, who's known to drag his heels. I mean, it's no secret that Prigozhin has been very outspoken about how he views the defense leadership and how this war is being managed since day one, saying that Wagner has done a much better job.
That having been said, he has never come out and specifically condemned the rationale for this war, which is the first time that we've seen that happen. I don't think that brings this war to an end any time soon regardless of what happens with Vladimir Putin. But I do think that that was notable and that is something that Vladimir Putin could not defend or allow to happen without a response.
MARQUARDT: All right, everyone stand by. Coming up next, CNN's new reporting on the extremely detailed intelligence that the United States had gathered on the Wagner rebellion.
MARQUARDT: Just into CNN, there is new evidence that U.S. intelligence was clued in to plans for the Wagner chief's rebellion in Russia over the weekend.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand is at the Pentagon with the details. Natasha, we both worked on this new reporters -- to this new reporting rather, sources telling us that U.S. intelligence really had quite a clear picture of what Prigozhin was planning.
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Alex, they apparently had a really detailed look into what Prigozhin's plans actually were, including how and where he was planning to potentially challenge Russia's military leadership.
Now, we reported, of course, that there were some elements of this that were very surprising to U.S. officials, including that, of course, there was not as much bloodshed and violence as they anticipated because they didn't face much resistance from Russian troops inside Russia itself.
But this intelligence was extremely detailed, and it was very closely held, we're told. It was only shared with a number of very high level senior U.S. officials, as well as the gang of eight, members of Congress who are briefed regularly on very sensitive information.
And British officials, we are told, were also briefed. But, largely, U.S. allies were kept in the dark. And that has frustrated some NATO officials that we spoke to who say they really wish the U.S. had shared this intelligence with them.
But, at the same time, sources told us that this would have compromised potentially very, very sensitive sources and methods and so they really wanted to keep it close-holed here.
And the Ukrainians, we are told, were not told either before all of this played out because of fears that those plans might be intercepted in the conversations between U.S. and Ukrainian officials. So, there was a lot of concern about keeping this intelligence very closely held, but then, of course, once this all started to play out on Friday, the U.S. began scrambling to clue their allies in on this intelligence, and, importantly, advise them to stay quiet on the matter and not give Vladimir Putin an excuse to say that the U.S. or the west had anything to do with this, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yes, very interesting to see how this intelligence was handled in this seminal moment. Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Let's get reaction from former Defense Secretary and former CIA Director Leon Panetta. Director Panetta, thank you so much for joining us.
I first want to get your reaction to that new CNN reporting. Are you surprised that this intelligence was held so closely, shared with so few? Do you think Prigozhin's planning should have been shared with more allies?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: No, I'm not surprised at all, because it's obvious that it must have been a very sensitive source that provided this information. And if it had gotten out in some way, it could have not only jeopardized that source but it could also have created problems within Ukraine itself and certainly could've created problems with others as well who were involved in trying to put that intelligence together.
So, I'm not surprised. I think we did the right thing in holding that tight. I'm sure it was provided to the president and to key officials at the top levels. And I'm sure they were kind of keeping their eye on whether or not Prigozhin would certainly start this kind of coup.
MARQUARDT: And shared with some members of Congress and the British, we're told.
Director, we also heard for the first time from President Biden after this insurrection. Let's take a listen to a bit of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We gave Putin no excuse to blame this on the west and to blame this on NATO. We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system.
It is still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going, the ultimate outcome of all this remains to be seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: So, what do you make of the administration's response so far? PANETTA: I think the president is saying exactly the right thing. I think the United States and our allies have to make very clear that they had no involvement, whatsoever.
And, look, I think the bottom line here, Alex, is that Putin is the one who's paying a price for something he created. He's the one who put together the Wagner group, this group of mercenaries under Prigozhin. He's deployed them to Asia, to Africa, to Ukraine, where they've committed all kinds of atrocities.
And then when Prigozhin started speaking out and criticizing both Putin as well as the Russian military, Putin took no steps, really, to discipline Prigozhin. And when they did, when they tried to finally bring Wagner into the Russian army, that's when Prigozhin decided to conduct this coup.
So, frankly, the bottom line here is Putin has no one to blame for himself for what occurred in Russia.
MARQUARDT: Do you think that Putin will be able to convince those around him and Russians really all across the country that he still does have a firm grip on power?
PANETTA: I think it's going to be very difficult. Clearly, any time there's chaos and instability, any leader faces problems as a result of that. But particularly an autocrat like Putin, who his basic claim to power, is that he controls what's going on in Russia, and what happened indicates that his control was not there.
And so the ultimate question here is going to be whether or not Putin can reassert some kind of control. But the problem is that in the remarks he made today, he's basically made clear that those who conducted an insurrection in Russia are really not going to be brought to justice. They're going to have a choice as to whether they go home or stay in Belarus or whether they fight with the Russian military. But I don't see Putin really exercising the degree of control that he has to exercise if he's ever going to restore his own credibility.
MARQUARDT: Yes, a remarkable leeway that he's giving to these Wagner fighters. Leon Panetta, thanks very much for your expertise this evening. Thanks for joining us.
And coming up, more on the mutiny by Russian mercenaries and how it's putting the spotlight on a fierce rivalry between the Wagner Group's boss and Vladimir Putin's defense secretary.
MARQUARDT: In Russia tonight, the Kremlin says that Vladimir Putin has been meeting with his defense minister and other heads of law enforcement agencies. Putin working to manage the fallout from the armed mutiny by Russian Wagner mercenaries, the rebellion by the head of the Wagner Group underscoring his bitter feud with Russia's defense minister. Brian Todd has been working this story. So, Brian, tell us more about this fierce feud between these two men.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alex, it's a rivalry that's been building for months, if not longer. And it recently escalated when the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an order that could have taken the Wagner Group out of existence.
TODD (voice over): The two main rivals in this drama both started as outsiders. Unlike many of Vladimir Putin's closest confidants who hail from Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was born in a small village on the Russian-Mongolian border.
Wagner mercenary group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin's early adulthood was spent in prison for petty crimes. When he got out, Prigozhin operated a hot dog stand, then built his business into a series of restaurants, then won some profitable catering contracts with the Russian government and military, earning him a nickname of Putin's chef.
SAMUEL CHARAP, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: His is a story about almost the caricatured version of how violent entrepreneurs in the 1990s, when there weren't many rules about Russian capitalism, got ahead and, you know, having connections in the underworld.
TODD: Prigozhin established Wagner around 2014, and consolidated his power by having his mercenaries do Putin's bidding in civil conflicts in Africa and Syria.
In Ukraine, analysts say, Prigozhin's fighters proved especially valuable to Putin.
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Not because of the fabulous military skills or equipment that the Wagner Group had, but because the Wagner Group was even more willing than the Russian army, which is saying something, to just sacrifice their young soldiers. They just don't care. That was very useful for Putin.
TODD: Some analysts point to the vicious battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which grinded both countries' armies down for the better part of a year as the moment when Prigozhin turned on Shoigu, accusing the defense minister and his top general, Valery Gerasimov, of not providing his Wagner fighters with enough ammunition, once delivering an expletive-laden rant in front of the corpses of Wagner mercenaries.
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIHN, PRESIDENT, WAGNER PMC: Came here as volunteers and are dying for you so that you can have a wealthy life in your offices made of red wood.
TODD: Analysts say that infighting likely didn't bother Putin at all because Putin often likes to pit his subordinates against each other. LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think Putin felt there was some utility of Prigozhin attacking Shoigu and Gerasimov for not doing enough. But with that rope, Prigozhin became increasingly emboldened.
TODD: Then earlier this month, a possible last straw between Prigozhin and Shoigu. Shoigu signed an order which called for Wagner volunteers to be absorbed into the Russian military.
CHARAP: I think, basically, Prigozhin has said as much if that kind of subordination he saw as basically the end of Wagner, as it had been known, and that's probably true. And I think that Shoigu probably did want to put an end to it.
TODD (on camera): How does this end and who wins between Yevgeny Prigozhin and Sergei Shoigu? Analysts say that's far from clear right now. They say it's possible that Putin and Shoigu move to dismantle Wagner and sideline or possibly even imprison Prigozhin. But it's also possible, they say, that within the next few months, Sergei Shoigu himself could be pushed out. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Brian Todd, thanks very much, fascinating report.
We're back now with our military and Russia experts. General Hertling, I want to pick up on Brian Todd's report there. Do you think it's safe to say that Putin has sided with his military leadership with Shoigu, with Gerasimov, at least for now? And do you think that that is a mistake by Putin?
HERTLING: You know, Alex, this is so complex. Yes, it's a mistake, bottom line. But Prigozhin is a symptom of a disease. He is not the disease himself. Mr. Putin's government and the way he uses his military and the graft and the corruption of guys like Shoigu and Gerasimov, who have been there for over a decade, are more the disease itself. Prigozhin is just symbolic of what is happening.
So, when you're talking about trying to address these issues and to fix these things, Mr. Putin just cannot do it, because this is inlaid within the government that is a kleptocratic authoritarian state that is not interested at all in conducting military operations properly or government activities properly.
MARQUARDT: Matt, I keep thinking about the rank and file Russian soldiers in the trenches in Ukraine. How do you think this impacts the morale of those Russians in Ukraine? And then, conversely, how does Ukraine take advantage?
DIMMICK: So, I think the average soldier in the trench is under no illusions that the war is being badly managed and that the leadership is terrible and is not looking out for their well-being. The fact that Prigozhin is bringing this not very well kept secret into the light does not have much impact on the day-to-day struggle of the Russian soldier fighting in the trenches for his own survival. And as far as how this plays out, you got Shoigu still sitting in his office in Moscow, and now Prigozhin is exiled off to Belarus or elsewhere. So, I imagine that Shoigu is probably -- his seat is safe for the near term, and then Prigozhin is going to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on from here.
MARQUARDT: And, Bianna, we have talked about this sprawling Wagner empire. Prigozhin talked about the threat of Wagner ceasing to exist. How much do you think what he's doing now is motivated by his business interests and his own personal gain?
GOLODRYGA: I think quite a bit, Alex. I mean, this, to him -- and he's right -- is an existential threat and taking Wagner away from him, which is why it was a final straw and why he really lashed out the way he did. The problem was there was really no plan B. And I think he was quite surprised that he and Wagner were able to get as far as they did both in Rostov and obviously en route to Moscow.
That having been said, Wagner, which was a creation of Vladimir Putin's, this is not a private mercenary group but rather an arm of the GRU has for years worked to Putin's benefit as sort of a plausible deniability operation that was generating a lot of money outside of Russia as well in Africa in particular.
And that had made Yevgeny Prigozhin a very rich man.
That having been said, he is very popular among the Wagner fighters, which is why you've seen, at least according to Yevgeny Prigozhin, he's attested that only 1 or 2 percent of them have actually signed up to go work for the Ministry of Defense. He claims that he still has a lot of these fighters, well-trained and well-armed fighters at that, supporting him.
MARQUARDT: And, Jill, there have been some questions about whether Prigozhin was being charged. Russian state news is now reporting that the criminal case against Prigozhin, quote, did not stop. How do you see the situation?
DOUGHERTY: Well, I think, once again, the obfuscation about what really is going on kind of covers all bases. We really don't know. I think the most dangerous thing for Putin will be that appeal that Prigozhin has kind of a populism against the elites, because Putin is the elites, his government is the elites. And so, does he take care of them, does he keep the defense minister in place, does he fire him, these are the things that we're going to -- it won't happen right now but it could happen down the road. And this is really destabilizing and very threatening to the entire system that Putin has in place.
MARQUARDT: All right, thank you to you all for those terrific conversations.
And just ahead, more reaction to the Russian mutiny and what it says about Vladimir Putin's hold on power. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MARQUARDT: As Vladimir Putin is putting his spin on the armed mutiny by mercenary forces, top officials say it's too soon to know the impact of the revolt.
We are joined now by the former national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
First, I want to get your reaction to Putin's statement tonight. Does this sound like a leader who has regained control of the situation or do you think he still faces a threat to his grip on power?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I still think we don't know enough to know a precise answer to that question. But one interpretation of the way Putin is approaching this in his most recent speech is that he's really fixed not on the political dealings with Prigozhin, he's fixed on the battlefield in Ukraine, where the events of the weekend undoubtedly caused some disorder and disarray, may have had an effect on morale. We just don't know.
But one way to regain power and respect and authority for Putin would be some better Russian performance on the battlefield in Ukraine. And I think that's where his highest risk.
I might just note one thing. For some time now, people have been using the figure of 25,000 Wagner forces being in Russia and Ukraine. That's certainly what Prigozhin says. But the British press has been reporting yesterday and today that British intelligence says that total Wagner forces in country are about 8,000.
Now, I don't know what the right figure but that's a pretty big difference. And the idea that 8,000 Wagner group forces, if that's the true number, were going to take Moscow, just adds to the delusional nature of what it looks like Prigozhin tried to do.
MARQUARDT: And so much of his anger came from the fact that so many of them were being killed, particularly around Bakhmut.
Prigozhin is rejecting the suggestion that this was a coup attempt. He says this was a protest march, a march for justice, he called it. Now, you yourself have admitted to planning coups in other countries. What do you think Prigozhin's goal, his endgame was?
BOLTON: I don't think he really knows. I think much of this occurred in Prigozhin's mind when he was confronted with these efforts by the Russian Defense Ministry effectively to end Wagner Group force's existence separately in the Ukraine theater, and I'm not sure he thought it through.
I would say, by the way, and I did hear it referred to earlier in the program about the sprawling resources of Wagner. They are sprawling. They sprawl in the Middle East and they sprawl over Africa. And I think it's important that we consider that today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Wagner forces in Africa and presumably in the Middle East would continue in operation, maybe not under Prigozhin's control. So, that's another effort, I think, by Putin and his government, to split Wagner into separate pieces.
MARQUARDT: Lavrov also said that they were looking into whether western intelligence had any hand in this. You have said that the Biden administration has done the right thing in handling this crisis by doing nothing. And we heard from the president saying that the U.S. had no role in this insurrection. Do you think -- are you surprised that Putin didn't come out in his speech and accuse the west of being behind this, an international plot?
BOLTON: I wouldn't be surprised if that's coming. But I think our posture is best to say and do nothing here that gives them any reason to do anything more than pontificate the way that they are. And besides, in a contest between Putin and Prigozhin, that's a pretty hard choice on what U.S. interests would be.
And I think our principal interest in Russia is the security of the nuclear weapons, which I don't think we could entrust if Prigozhin had succeeded.
MARQUARDT: All right. Ambassador John Bolton, thanks so much for joining us this evening.
BOLTON: Glad to do it.
MARQUARDT: And coming up on Erin Burnett Outfront, right after The Situation Room, Erin will be live from Kyiv and speaking with Vladimir Putin's first prime minister.
That's coming up at 7:00 Eastern.
And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will get an update into the investigation of the Titan submersible disaster. Are there any new clues about what went wrong?
MARQUARDT: Tonight, multiple investigations of the Titan submersible disaster are underway. Authorities aiming to determine what caused the sub's catastrophic implosion which killed all five passengers on board.
CNN's Miguel Marquez is on the Canadian coast.
Miguel, what is the latest in these investigations?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are at the bottom of the sea trying to bring up some of the remnants of the Titan. They may use a much heavier lift submersible to bring up even larger pieces if they need to. That's while four countries and six different investigations are underway.
REAR ADM. JOHN MAUGER, U.S. COAST GUARD: The Coast Guard has officially convened a marine board of investigation into the loss of the submersible and the five people on board.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Now, six inquiries being conducted by four countries into the catastrophic failure of the Titan.
CAPT. JASON NEUBAUER, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR, U.S. COAST GUARD: The board will first and primarily work to determine the cause of this marine casualty.
MARQUEZ: Deepwater submersibles have been mapping the wreckage and recovering some pieces of the doomed sub.
NEUBAUER: The salvage operations are ongoing. The resources are on site and capable of recovering the debris.
MARQUEZ: And if evidence shows criminal wrongdoing, the royal Canadian mounted police will start its own probe. As for the cost of this massive operation, it's estimated to be in the millions with the U.S. Coast Guard picking up the tab.
Canada's transportation safety board already gathering data on the Polar Prince, the ship that transported the Titan.
KATHY FOX, CHAIR, TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD OF CANADA: TSB investigators boarded the Polar Prince to examine and document the vessel, to collect information from the vessel's voyage data recorder and other vessel systems that contain useful information.
MARQUEZ: Canada's TSB also speaking to family members of the deceased who were on the Polar Prince when the sub was lost.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you aboard the vessel --
MARQUEZ: Christine Dawood told the BBC she was supposed to descend in the sub but gave her spot to her son.
CHRISTINE DAWOOD, WIFE OF VICTIM: It was supposed to be Shahzada and I going down. And then I sustained back and gave the space to Suleman because he really wants to go.
MARQUEZ: So, in all, the U.S., Canada, the French authorities and British authorities, agencies from those countries are all looking into this one incident. There are so many investigations right now. It'll take likely months if not a year or longer before they can make recommendations and figure out exactly what happened and hopefully present -- prevent something like this from happening again -- Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yeah, many questions still remain.
Miguel Marquez, thanks much.
Just ahead, we have lost a legendary member of the CNN family. We'll take a close look at the career of former CNN D.C. bureau chief David Bohrman.
MARQUARDT: Finally tonight, we remember an extraordinary talent and former leader of CNN here in Washington, who was a driving force behind this very program, THE SITUATION ROOM.
David Bohrman died of complications from surgery yesterday.
Wolf Blitzer looks back at Bohrman's achievements and his legacy.
DAVID BOHRMAN, FORMER CNN EXEC: I'm David Bohrman. I'm producing all of our coverage tonight.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM (voice-over): David Bohrman changed the way viewers experienced television news. He was a legendary CNN senior executive and Washington bureau chief, and one of the most innovative TV news producers of our time.
There wouldn't be a SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER without David Bohrman.
David Bohrman is the man behind all of this.
David got the wild idea to anchor CNN's 2004 election coverage at the Nasdaq and Times Square in front of a multi-screen backdrop.
That's where the original idea for THE SITUATION ROOM was born.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Viewers of TV news are used to seeing walls of video now. David Bohrman started it all.
SAM FEIST, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF AND SENIOR VP: David literally changed the way television news is produced. After the success of the 2004 election and after the birth of THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN and just about every other network added large monitor walls to all of our news studios.
So when you watch CNN's news coverage during the day, you'll see our anchors are anchoring in front of these large monitor walls. And when you watch that, you'll know that news format was inspired by David Bohrman.
BLITZER: David Bohrman's influence on CNN and TV news is everywhere, especially on election nights.
When you watch John King at the magic wall, that's David Bohrman.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: David was a gentle genius. He was overflowing with curiosity and had not an ounce of complacency. He was always looking for new ways and compelling ways to tell the story.
And then he was a risk-taker. David took the magic wall and put it front and center in the most important thing we do here in election years. He was willing to take the risk to put it right there. And that changed history. It revolutionized the business.
BLITZER: CNN's 2008 election coverage saw David Bohrman in full-on innovation mode, including television's first real-time hologram.
BOHRMAN: Well, about a dozen years, I've been trying to do it. And I've basically been a crazy mad scientist trying to get it done.
BLITZER: David left his mark on so many stories at multiple networks. He produced all of CNN's live coverage from New York on 9/11.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is a grotesque site to look at --
BLITZER: He was part of the original staff of ABC News "Nightline."
BOHRMAN: Editorially, the job is to manage the flow of news on the floor.
BLITZER: And he played a key role in the first-ever live shot from Mount Everest in 1982.
REPORTER: This is Dave Bohrman, the ABC producer who set up the TV length to the base of Everest.
BOHRMAN: It's a little hazy, but I can see all the way to you.
BLITZER: David Bohrman created nearly a dozen new television news programs including at ABC and MSNBC, as well as here at CNN.
KING: Today, we're launching a new kind of Sunday program.
BLITZER: You could say that television and journalism were in David Bohrman's blood. He was born in Hollywood. His mother Del was a television writer. His father Stan was an award-winning radio and television newsman.
David racked up an impressive array of awards himself, including six Emmys and two Peabody Awards. David Bohrman was 69 years old. He is survived by his wife Catherine, his children Amber and Harrison, and granddaughters Sloane and Paige.
And he will be forever a part of the CNN family. His legacy living on in the way we bring you the news every day.
David Bohrman is our genius.
BOHRMAN: For now. BLITZER: Thanks.
MARQUARDT: And I would like to express a personal thanks to David Bohrman who was running this bureau in Washington when CNN gave me a shot many years ago. His impact on this building and the people in it is plain for all to see. Our deep condolences to his family.
I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.