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By Guy Faulconbridge
(Reuters) -U.S. CIA Director William Burns said on Saturday that the armed mutiny by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was a challenge to the Russian state that had shown the corrosive effect of President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.
Putin this week thanked the army and security forces for averting what he said could have turned into a civil war, and has compared the mutiny to the chaos that plunged Russia into two revolutions in 1917.
For months, Prigozhin had been openly insulting Putin's most senior military men, using a variety of crude expletives and prison slang that shocked top Russian officials but were left unanswered in public by Putin.
"It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin's mendacious rationale for the invasion of Ukraine and of the Russian military leadership's conduct of the war," Burns said in a lecture to Britain's Ditchley Foundation - a non-profit foundation focused on U.S.-British relations - in Oxfordshire, England.
"The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time - a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin's war on his own society and his own regime."
Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008 and was appointed CIA director in 2021, cast Prigozhin's mutiny as an "armed challenge to the Russian state".
He said the mutiny was an "internal Russian affair in which the United States has had and will have no part."
Since a deal was struck a week ago to end the mutiny, the Kremlin has sought to project calm, with the 70-year-old Putin discussing tourism development, meeting crowds in Dagestan, and discussing ideas for economic development.
Russia will emerge stronger after the failed mutiny so the West need not worry about stability in the world's biggest nuclear power, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
But Burns said that the war had already been a strategic failure for Russia by laying bare its military weakness and damaging the Russian economy for years to come, while the NATO military alliance was growing bigger and stronger.
Burns said Russia's "future as a junior partner and economic colony of China" was being shaped "by Putin's mistakes."
He said disaffection in Russia with the war in Ukraine was creating a rare opportunity to recruit spies - and the CIA was not letting it pass.
"Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression," Burns said.
"That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at the CIA - at our core a human intelligence service. We're not letting it go to waste."
The Kremlin said in May that its agencies were tracking Western spy activity after the CIA published a video encouraging Russians to make contact via a secure internet channel.
The short video in Russian was accompanied by a text saying the agency wanted to hear from military officers, intelligence specialists, diplomats, scientists and people with information about Russia's economy and its leadership.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Holmes)