The United States and its allies had “nothing to do with” the Wagner mercenary group’s uprising against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his military command, President Biden said on Monday, his first public comments on the short-lived rebellion that incited an extraordinary weekend of crisis in Russia.
“This was part of a struggle within the Russian system,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House ahead of an announcement on an internet infrastructure initiative.
Mr. Biden said he had instructed his national security team to brief him “hour by hour” and to “prepare for a range of scenarios.” He also said that he had convened a conference call to coordinate with some of the United States’ key allies as the mutiny led by the Wagner founder Yevgeny V. Prigozhin began unfolding over the weekend.
On the call, Mr. Biden said, the allies agreed to give Mr. Putin “no excuse to blame this on the West or to blame this on NATO.” He added, “We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it.”
Mr. Biden said he and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, whom he spoke with on Sunday, would stay in contact. Mr. Biden said that the United States would continue to assess the fallout from the crisis in Russia and closely align responses with its allies. Still, he cautioned, it was “still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going.”
Mr. Prigozhin was last seen in public late Saturday after calling off Wagner’s brief revolt. He agreed to call off his forces’ march to Moscow under a deal that would halt a criminal investigation into his activities and allow him to go to Belarus. On Monday, Mr. Prigozhin broke his silence to claim that his advance on Moscow had never been intended as a bid to seize power.
In a separate news briefing, the State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, told reporters on Monday that he did not know whether Mr. Prigozhin was in Belarus and that he had “no assessment” of Mr. Prigozhin’s location at all. He added that the United States did not know what would happen to Wagner fighters in Ukraine or Africa, calling the situation “dynamic.”
Even so, Mr. Miller said, the significance of Mr. Prigozhin’s power play was clear.
“It is a certainly a new thing to see President Putin’s leadership directly challenged,” he said, noting that Mr. Prigozhin had publicly questioned the rationale for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, something that “we certainly have not seen coming from Russian officials previously.”
Mr. Miller added that the United States did “not take a position on the leadership of the Russian Federation. We do not take a position on the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense.”
“Our policies have been always been with respect to actions that Russia has taken,” he said.
While Mr. Miller may have been articulating official U.S. policy, President Biden has previously expressed a different personal view.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Putin during a March 2022 visit to Poland.
Mr. Miller also said that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, had contacted the Russian government on Saturday, reminding Russian officials of their obligations to protect the U.S. embassy and diplomatic personnel in Moscow.
Mr. Miller said that Ms. Tracy had also reiterated assurances that the Biden administration saw the uprising as an internal Russian matter, “one in which the United States is not involved and will not be involved.”