- On August 23, two months after his brief rebellion, Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash.
- The cause is unclear, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is suspected of orchestrating the crash.
- If so, the process of removing Prigozhin may have begun at a meeting in the Kremlin days after his uprising.
Two months to the day after his brief rebellion against Russian leadership, Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow on August 23, along with senior members of his private military company, the Wagner Group.
While the cause is still unclear, Russian President Vladimir Putin is strongly suspected of orchestrating the death of the mercenary leader who has been attacking Moscow for months. A dramatic meeting in the Kremlin shortly after the failed uprising suggests that Putin was waiting until he could ensure a smooth takeover of Wagner, who has become an important player in Russian foreign policy.
Putin asked the group if they would serve under new leader Alexei Troshev. The commanders nodded in agreement, but Prigozhin, who could not see their response because they were behind him, was adamant: “No, the boys will not agree to that,” he said, according to Kommersant.
This meeting may have sealed Prigozhin’s fate.
“The June 29 meeting between Putin and Wagner and Prigozhin was intended to show disagreements between Prigozhin and the group’s commanders over the future of the organization and prepare the group’s veteran leaders for Prigozhin’s elimination,” said Matthew Orr, an analyst at Eurasia at Risk. -news company RANE, Insider said.
“Reports of the meeting — and the lack of notable instances of disagreement after Prigozhin’s death — suggest that the meeting likely achieved its goals,” Orr said.
Two other key Wagner figures, Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov, also died in the August 23 crash. Utkin, who was believed to be a co-founder of the group, was hugely popular among its old guard and much of the rank-and-file. Chekalov, Prigozhin’s senior deputy, oversaw logistics, coordinating Wagner’s numerous activities and operations in Libya and Syria.
With these three men out of the picture, it might be easier to bring Wagner more firmly under state control, as Putin can now prevent commanders more aligned with his views from taking control amid the chaos of the reorganization.
Orr said Moscow would most likely use its security and intelligence services, primarily the GRU and FSB, to “consolidate control over” Wagner’s commanders and regional leaders to ensure their operations align with Russian state interests while “technically remaining a private organization”.
“Wagner’s operations in Africa may face increased competition in the medium to long term – or possible absorption by – other PMCs closely linked to the Russian Ministry of Defense, such as PMC Convoy and PMC Redut,” Orr said, referring to the private military. companies.
Reports indicate that these other groups have recently begun “recruiting for potential operations in Africa where they could compete with Wagner and ultimately have the ability to take Wagner out entirely — which would further strengthen Kremlin control,” Orr added.
Other reports indicate that Russian military officials have begun move to take control Wagner’s operations and to strengthen relations with partners in the Middle East and Africa in the weeks before Prigozhin’s death, including while Prigozhin was touring the region enforce control his organization.
Anton Mardasov, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute’s Syria program, said it was “obvious” that the Kremlin would not side with Prigozhin in his dispute with the Defense Ministry for several reasons, including the “specific connection” of Russian elites. , “which a priori was not” with Prigozhin.
“Wagner’s autonomous existence was ruled out because, together with Prigozhin, the group posed a serious danger to Moscow,” Mardasov told Insider.
“Moreover, Prigozhin violated the agreement from the very beginning, left many loopholes in the business, and it was clear that he was not going to sit quietly,” Mardasov said, pointing to videos Prigozhin released in the weeks before his death from Belarus and Africa. confirmation.
Under Prigozhin, Wagner assembled a business empire using lucrative concessions from governments and supporters in the countries where it operated. The group’s profitability has allowed it to maintain its operations in sub-Saharan Africa, a huge asset for the organization and one Moscow will likely seek to retain.
Orr said Wagner’s new leaders, or their replacements, are likely to be “even more eager to demonstrate their activities” benefiting the Russian state, rather than “serving the (provincial) economic interests of its owners.”
The Kremlin sought to portray Prigozhin’s “alleged greed and selfishness” as the reason for his downfall, Orr said, and as a result “surrogate groups can further emphasize their commitment to the common task of advancing the interests of the Russian state.”
Despite the Kremlin’s denials for years, officials in the Middle East and Africa saw Wagner as a valuable partner because they believed the Russian government supported his operations, Orr said.
Moscow will now be keen to show “strong support” to whichever organization replaces Wagner, but is likely to avoid taking formal control of their missions, which could mean deploying Russian troops to replace the mercenaries, as it would be “politically undesirable” in the middle war in Ukraine, Orr added.
Mardasov, who is also a military affairs analyst, said the Kremlin likely believes it is highly unrealistic for Wagner’s senior leaders to work under closer government supervision, with attempts to create such an arrangement met with “serious resistance” from Prigozhin and those closest to him .
“Moreover, Wagner PMC is not just a group of mercenaries. It is a structure based on a number of Prigozhin’s business assets, which has political strategists, consulting, intelligence and so on,” Mardasov said. “It is impossible to simply change the owner, because military intelligence will not deal with consulting and political technologies, and such a huge power tool is redundant for the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service).
Prigozhin’s death has already affected Russia’s position in Syria and other countries, including Libya, the center of Wagner’s operations in Africa and where Russian military leaders are said to be. seeking sea access.
For now, the mercenaries have some leverage because their departure would create a gap that Moscow is still unsure how to fill, “because there’s basically no real working plan to replace Wagner with an expeditionary force” from the PMC, which is more heavily influenced by the military. said Mardasov.
But Wagner and other PMCs rely on the Russian Defense Ministry for transportation and other support, and recent moves by Russian officials suggest they are trying to ensure no such loophole opens.
“Among Wagner’s group, there is still hope for an autonomous existence under the leadership of Prigozhin’s son Pavel and commanders who really control the situation,” Mardasov said. “But this situation cannot last long, especially with the Ministry of Defense issuing ultimatums and the Ministry having influence over the mercenaries.
Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and columnist who writes on Middle East developments, military affairs, politics and history. His articles have appeared in various publications focusing on the region.