In the most detailed public account yet given by a U.S. official, the director of the C.I.A. offered a biting assessment on Thursday of the damage done to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by the mutiny of the Wagner mercenary group, saying the rebellion had revived questions about Mr. Putin’s judgment and his detachment from events.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual national security conference, William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, said that for much of the 36 hours of the rebellion last month, Russian security services, the military and decision makers “appeared to be adrift.”
“For a lot of Russians watching this, used to this image of Putin as the arbiter of order, the question was, ‘Does the emperor have no clothes?’” Mr. Burns said, adding, “Or, at least, ‘Why is it taking so long for him to get dressed?’”
Mr. Burns’s remarks on the Kremlin’s paralysis during the uprising carried out by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin and his mercenary group built on comments a day earlier from his British counterpart, Richard Moore, the chief of MI6, who said the rebellion showed cracks in Mr. Putin’s rule.
Mr. Burns said that while Mr. Prigozhin was making up some of the steps in the rebellion “as he went along,” his critique of the Russian military leadership, which he made in a series of increasingly pugnacious statements over months, was “hiding in plain sight.”
Mr. Prigozhin has also been bitterly critical of the Kremlin’s argument for the war against Ukraine. Mr. Burns said the Telegram channel where Mr. Prigozhin posted a video challenging Russia’s main argument for invading Ukraine was watched by a third of the Russian population.
“That video was the most scathing indictment of Putin’s rationale for war, of the conduct of the war, of the corruption at the core of Putin’s regime that I have heard from a Russian or a non-Russian,” Mr. Burns said.
Mr. Burns confirmed that the United States had some notice that the uprising might take place. He predicted that Mr. Putin would try to separate the Wagner forces from Mr. Prigozhin to preserve the combat prowess of the mercenary group, which has been important to Russia’s war effort.
Since the rebellion, and the deal that ended it, Mr. Prigozhin has been in Minsk in Belarus, but has also spent time in Russia, Mr. Burns said.
He said he would be surprised if Mr. Prigozhin ultimately “escapes further retribution.”
“What we are seeing is a very complicated dance between Prigozhin and Putin,” Mr. Burns said. “I think Putin is someone who generally thinks revenge is a dish best served cold, so he is going to try to settle the situation to the extent he can.”
Mr. Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who served in Moscow as the Russian president consolidated power nearly two decades ago, added that the Russian leader is “the ultimate apostle of payback.”
And, Mr. Burns suggested, it would not just be Mr. Prigozhin who faces repercussions.
U.S. officials have said privately that a senior Russian general, Sergei V. Surovikin, had advance knowledge of Mr. Prigozhin’s plans and may have supported the rebellion.
Asked if General Surovikin was free or detained, Mr. Burns said, “I don’t think he enjoys a lot of freedom right now.”