EXCLUSIVE: Zelensky calls Putin “weak” and says Russian president’s power is “eroding”

Author’s Note | Erin Burnett’s full interview with Volodymyr Zelensky airs this Wednesday, July 5

Vladimir Putin’s response to the Wagner armed insurgency has been “weak” and the Russian president is losing control over his own people, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN in an exclusive interview.

Putin faced the biggest threat to his power in two decades when Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner sub-military group, marched on Moscow and launched a short-lived rebellion, claiming control of military installations in two Russian cities. Get it back.

“We see Putin’s reaction. It’s weak,” Zelensky told Erin Burnett in Odessa in a taped interview Sunday.

“First, we see that he does not control everything. The fact that Wagner penetrated deep into Russia and took over some regions shows how easy it is to do that. Putin does not control the situation in the regions”, he analyzed.

“The whole vertical of power that he had is crumbling.”

Some Russians hailed the Wagnerian militia as Prigozhin led an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s power. Geolocated video verified by CNN showed crowds cheering as the Wagner leader’s vehicle left the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on June 24.

Zelensky said Ukrainian intelligence reports showed the Kremlin was measuring support for Prigozhin, and that half of Russia supported Wagner’s leadership and the paramilitary group’s mutiny.

The interview with Zelensky comes at a critical time — not only in the wake of Prigozhin’s failed uprising, but weeks after Ukraine’s slow efforts to reclaim Russian-occupied territory.

The effort has come under intense scrutiny from Western allies, and on Saturday, a US official told CNN that CIA Director Bill Burns had recently traveled to Kiev and met with Zelensky and Ukrainian intelligence officials.

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Zelensky told CNN he was “surprised” by the media coverage of his meeting with Burns. “My communication with the head of the CIA has always had to be done behind the scenes,” he said. “We discussed important things – what Ukraine needs and how Ukraine is ready to act.”

Burns, a veteran diplomat, became a trusted interlocutor in Kiev, making several trips to Ukraine during the war.

“We have no secrets from the CIA, because we have a good relationship and our secret services talk to each other,” Zelensky assured.

“The situation is very simple. We have a good relationship with the CIA director and we’re talking. I’ve told him all the important battlefield stuff we need.”

Burns traveled to Kiev before Prigozhin’s revolt, which was not the topic of the discussion, the same source told CNN.

Speaking at a press conference in Kiev on Saturday, Zelensky said Prigozhin’s rebellion had “drastically affected Russian power on the battlefield” and could be useful for Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

While Kiev’s efforts have focused on recapturing territory in southern and eastern Ukraine, Zelensky told Burnett that his ultimate goal is to liberate Crimea, a peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 in violation of international law.

“We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And as long as Crimea remains under Russian occupation, that means only one thing: the war is not over yet,” he argued.

Asked whether peace could prevail without Crimea, Zelensky replied, “There will be no victory at that time.”

*Kul Thuyzus contributed to this article

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