(NEW YORK) — The attempted rebellion over the weekend against President Vladimir Putin by the Russia-backed private military company the Wagner Group, run by former Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin, shocked world observers and leaders.
Bill Taylor, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, spoke with ABC News’ Linsey Davis Monday evening about the situation and its effects on the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
ABC NEWS LIVE: Let’s start with the dueling statements today, Prigozhin radio statement. And then later, President Putin made an address. What’s your takeaway listening to both of them?
BILL TAYLOR: It’s two thugs. There are two Mafia heads going after each other. President Putin is trying to say that he’s got things under control. He clearly didn’t have things under control over the weekend. And Mr. Prigozhin says that he wasn’t really trying for a coup. He wasn’t attempting to take down the Russian government. It was just really a protest. Neither of these stories [are] very credible.
ABC NEWS LIVE: And when you say, yeah, he said that that this was a protest, Prigozhin also went on to say we had no goal of overthrowing the regime. Just to give a very simple understanding here. Why would Prigozhin do this? Was this a power grab? What was the ultimate point? And obviously this is somebody who’s a strategist. He had to see some endgame here. I’m curious from your perspective what that might have been.
TAYLOR: It might have been Linsey…that Prigozhin could have thought that he was going to get more support than that actually materialized. That is, he may have hoped or even had some reason to believe that some of the other military commanders or other Russian military commanders who were just as upset as he is and was about the terrible decision that President Putin had made to both invade the neighbor and then send all of these Russian boys, young soldiers, to die.
And clearly, Prigozhin was angry about that. And he thought there would be other military leaders who were similarly angry. As he approached Moscow, it must have become clear to him that these other military leaders were keeping their heads down.
ABC NEWS LIVE: And today, Putin gave commanders and soldiers in the Wagner group a few options to join the Russian military, drop their weapons and go home or go to Belarus. We’re talking about members of a formidable fighting force. What do you see them doing and can they be trusted at this point?
TAYLOR: Probably not. I would imagine if there are any of the Wagner soldiers who decide, who elect to take the contract with the Ministry of Defense, that they will not be trusted. I imagine there won’t be very many anyway. Wagner pays pretty well. Prigozhin pays his people in Wagner pretty well, pretty top dollar to get them to volunteer. They are all volunteers. For them now to sign up with the Ministry of Defense, they will not be paid the same. They’ll be mistrusted. So I suspect not many will do that.
Then there are some that may go home. Some of these Wagner soldiers are criminals, as we know, and they may have been promised amnesty. There’s not much discussion of what happens when they go home.
Then the third category, Linsey, as you say, some may decide to go to Belarus, but even Belarus is a questionable place. I mean, Belarus is part of the union state with Russia. So it’s very close to Russia. We know that President Lukashenko is very close to and dependent on Putin. So Belarus is not going to be a very hospitable place for Prigozhin or the Wagner troops. So I imagine that Wagner troops and Prigozhin will try to get out of Belarus as fast as they can.
ABC NEWS LIVE: Big picture for us, ambassador. How do you see this ultimately playing out, both for Putin, for Russia and ultimately the war in Ukraine?
TAYLOR: I think the big picture is the weakness of Russia, both at the top and even on the lines and the strength of the Ukrainians, as well as the preparation of the Ukrainians for this counter-offensive, which has been building for months. [It] comes at a great time for the Ukrainians. So I think the big picture is watch the Ukrainians over the next couple of weeks.
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