President Joe Biden on Monday sought to distance the United States from the weekend rebellion in Russia, insisting in his first public remarks since the episode that the West had nothing to do with the mutiny.
Speaking from the White House, Biden suggested it was too early to say how the situation would unfold going forward. And he said he may speak again with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to coordinate their response after conferring in a phone call Sunday.
“It’s still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going,” he said in the East Room. “The ultimate outcome of all this remains to be seen, but no matter what comes next I will keep making sure that our allies and our partners are closely aligned in how we are reading and responding to the situation.”
Biden’s statement reflected a carefully calibrated American response to the brief uprising by the Wagner Group that amounted to the biggest threat in years to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Over the weekend, Biden remained silent on the events unfolding in Russia. He consulted with European allies by telephone on Saturday before traveling to Camp David with his national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
In his remarks Monday, Biden laid out the thinking behind his approach, which some Republicans have criticized as overly cautious.
“We had to make sure we gave Putin no excuse to blame this on the West or 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,” Biden said.
American allies in Europe were in agreement with the strategy, Biden said. He spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada over the weekend, and planned to speak with the prime minister of Italy on Monday.
The comments from Biden echo statements that his administration has made publicly and behind the scenes in the days since the Wagner Group left its positions in Ukraine in an apparent march toward Moscow. CNN reported that the administration quickly sent messages to the Russian government that the US would not get involved in the incident.
Earlier Monday, a spokesman for the National Security Council said the US was not involved in the rebellion in Russia after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian special services are investigating whether Western intelligence services were involved in the revolt.
While Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, had turned his forces around before reaching Moscow in an apparent deal with the Kremlin brokered brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Biden said it’s still not clear what is happening in Russia.
“We’re going to keep assessing the fallout of this weekend’s events and the implications for Russia and Ukraine,” he said.
Biden continued speaking with his national security aides on Monday as they continued to process the consequences of the rebellion.
The White House declined to speculate on the future of the Wagner group following this weekend’s events in Russia.
“It’s just too soon to know,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told reporters when asked about wider implications for Wagner’s power and ability inside Ukraine and as a fighting force.
Kirby also took the opportunity to reiterate the administration’s continued support for Ukraine in its ongoing effort to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
“As we’re speaking here, right now, Ukrainian forces are still fighting for their country, they’re still trying to claw back captured territory … and they’re still inflicting casualties,” Kirby said “So, whatever occurred in Russia this past weekend did not change those facts – didn’t change the facts for us, didn’t change those facts for Ukraine, they absolutely are not going to change our continued support.”