Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not mince words in an exclusive interview, criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin as “weak” and asserting that Putin is losing control over his own people. Zelensky’s comments come in the aftermath of the armed rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, which posed a significant threat to Putin’s authority.
Speaking in an interview with Erin Burnett in Odesa, Zelensky expressed his observations about Putin’s response to the Wagner rebellion. “We see Putin’s reaction. It’s weak,” Zelensky stated. “Firstly, we see he doesn’t control everything. Wagner’s movement deep into Russia and their control over certain regions demonstrates how easy it is to challenge Putin’s authority. He doesn’t have control over the situation in those regions. All that vertical power he used to have is just crumbling down.”
Videos geolocated and verified by sources showed crowds cheering as Prigozhin’s vehicle departed from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on June 24, with some Russians supporting the Wagner fighters who had challenged Putin’s rule. Zelensky claimed that Ukrainian intelligence reports indicated that the Kremlin was gauging support for Prigozhin, and he alleged that half of Russia supported both Prigozhin and the Wagner mutiny.
The timing of the interview with Zelensky is crucial, as it follows the failed insurrection by Prigozhin and Ukraine’s ongoing efforts to regain control of occupied territories. Western allies have closely scrutinized Ukraine’s push, and it was revealed that the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Bill Burns, recently visited Kyiv, meeting with Zelensky and Ukrainian intelligence officials.
Zelensky expressed surprise at the media reports about his meeting with Burns, emphasizing that such communication should remain behind the scenes. However, he acknowledged the strong relationship between Ukraine and the CIA, stating, “We don’t have any secrets from the CIA because we have good relations, and our intelligence services talk with each other. The situation is pretty straightforward. We have good relations with the CIA chief, and we are talking. I told him about all the important things related to the battlefield which we need.”
Zelensky also discussed his ultimate goal of liberating Crimea, the peninsula that was annexed by Russia in 2014 in violation of international law. He stated, “We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And while Crimea is under Russian occupation, it means only one thing: the war is not over yet.” When asked if there was any scenario in which peace could be achieved without Crimea, Zelensky responded, “It will not be victory then.”
As tensions continue to escalate between Ukraine and Russia, Zelensky’s strong statements reflect the determination of the Ukrainian government to regain control of its territories and challenge Putin’s authority. The international community will be closely watching the developments in the region, with the hope of a peaceful resolution and stability in Eastern Europe.