William Burns
© AFP / Saul LoebWilliam Burns testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, April 14, 2021
William Burns reportedly reassured his Russian counterpart that the US played no role in the aborted rebellion.

CIA Director William Burns reached out to Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Sergey Naryshkin to state that the US "wasn't involved" in Wagner Group leader Evgeny Prigozhin's march on Moscow last weekend, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Burns spoke to Naryshkin by phone shortly after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal whereby Prigozhin would leave for Belarus in exchange for immunity from prosecution, the newspaper reported on Friday.

An anonymous US official summed up the message relayed by the CIA chief as "the US wasn't involved. This is an internal Russian matter."

Earlier in the week, US President Joe Biden told reporters that his administration "made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it. This was part of a struggle within the Russian system." However, the phone call between Burns and Naryshkin "is believed to be the highest-level contact between the two governments since the attempted mutiny," the Wall Street Journal explained.

The rebellion began on June 23, when Prigozhin accused the Russian military of launching a deadly missile strike on one of the group's field camps. The Russian Defense Ministry denied the allegation, but Prigozhin vowed to march to Moscow and demand "justice" regardless. Wagner troops occupied parts of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don the following day, but the journey to Moscow was halted later that night when Lukashenko announced that a deal had been reached.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced Prigozhin's actions as "a betrayal of our people," and touted the deal as the best option to avert a bloody civil war. Under the agreement, Wagner troops will be integrated into the regular Russian military, while the private military company will reportedly hand over its tanks, anti-aircraft systems, and other heavy weaponry.

Before the deal was announced, Western politicians and media outlets openly celebrated what they saw as a threat to Putin's rule. Amid subsequent reports claiming that Western intelligence agencies knew about the planned revolt in advance, National Guard of Russia commander Viktor Zolotov declared this week that the revolt "was inspired by Western special services, because, as they said, they knew about it several weeks ahead of time."

Zolotov claimed that "Prigozhin's camp" had been deliberately leaking "focused" information about a possible mutiny coming sometime between last Thursday and Sunday. He further suggested that Western agents may have been directly involved in conducting the operation.

The Kremlin has not endorsed Zolotov's claims. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that Russia has always emerged stronger from such challenges, describing the mutiny as "nothing more than trouble."