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Putin projects calm; CIA director calls mutiny 'vivid example' of leader's damage

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Last weekend, Russia went through a dramatic, if brief, rebellion by a mercenary leader. And in the days since, we've been watching for potential fallout from that turmoil. NPR's Greg Myre has been keeping close watch from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and he joins us now. Good afternoon, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So you're in Ukraine. Can you tell us briefly what's happening across the border in Russia, though?

MYRE: Yeah. President Vladimir Putin's message this week was everything's fine, nothing to see here. He took a trip out to the provinces, where he was warmly greeted. He held some meetings, went to some other events, but he really said nothing of substance about the rebellion. Meanwhile, the mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is said to be in exile in Belarus, but we haven't seen proof of that. He's gone silent. Some of his men may join him there, but, again, it's unclear.

DETROW: But given the role that the Wagner Group played in the war so far, there have been so many questions about what this means going forward for the Russian war effort. It's been a week. Have you seen any signs of what the effect is?

MYRE: Well, the war keeps rambling on here. There's no sign that the trajectory has really changed. Here in Kyiv, we got another Russian airstrike before dawn today. All the Russian incoming - eight drones, three missiles - were shot down, according to the Ukrainians. And this really reflects the very strong air defense system in the capital, where the shootdown rate recently has been around 100% or very close to it. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, Ukraine's offensive is now close to a month old. It's still moving very slowly. The Ukrainians have taken about nine villages in the east and south. They've advanced several miles, but the Russian defenses remain very well entrenched. Nothing is coming easy.

DETROW: So that's the short term. What about the longer term?

MYRE: Well, CIA Director William Burns certainly thinks there could be some movement here. He gave a rare public speech this weekend to Britain's Ditchley Foundation. He said the rebellion in Russia that was carried out by just this one mercenary group was a vivid example of the country's growing disaffection with the war in Ukraine. And here's what he thinks it means for the CIA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BURNS: That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at CIA - at our core, a human intelligence service. We're not letting it go to waste.

MYRE: So he thinks there will be Russians in important positions who may be ready and willing to turn on the Putin regime and work for the U.S. as spies. And this is just the latest example of the U.S. intelligence community openly discussing the war in Ukraine in ways that are intended to make Putin feel very, very uncomfortable.

DETROW: And finally, can you just step back and give us a sense of what day-to-day life is like for Ukrainians now, 17 months into this war?

MYRE: Yeah. On Saturday afternoon, I went to Bucha. That's the suburb of Kyiv that was absolutely devastated by Russian troops in the first day of the invasion last year. The town is coming back to life. On the main road, where Russian tanks were clogging the street, almost every home was destroyed, dozens of homes have now been rebuilt. Bucha's mayor dedicated a wall of honor, which consists of silver plaques with the names of more than 450 civilians killed by the Russians. And all this was followed by a rousing concert in a packed amphitheater. It featured opera and lots of patriotic songs. There was even that old hit from Queen - "Who Wants To Live Forever." So Bucha's got a long way to go to fully recover, but it's coming back.

DETROW: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER")

QUEEN: (Singing) Who wants to live forever? Who wants to live forever? Forever. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.