“There are some competent people who want to come in and earn on his budgets, but there is no character like Prigozhin, someone with a huge flow of money, or similar work efficiency and enthusiasm,” said Denis Korotkov, a veteran Russian. Journalist who has reported on Wagner for the past decade.
The Kremlin dismisses speculation linking it to Prigozhin’s death as “lies”.
However, Andrei Troshev, a senior Wagner insider, emerged as a potential competitor to step in and run what was left of the group. Troshev, a former lieutenant colonel in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, is believed to have been the main contact between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense during the war in Ukraine. He is one of the few Wagner public figures not on the passenger list for the plane that went down northwest of Moscow on Wednesday.
Telegram channels associated with Wagner and military bloggers He said In recent weeks, Troshev was expelled from the group, claiming he had betrayed Prigozhin after the June Rebellion and was eager to strike a deal with the Defense Ministry. Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, has long fought to control the paramilitary force, and his feud with Prigozhin helped precipitate Wagner’s short-lived march to Moscow.
“Troshev may be one of the future leaders of the modernized Wagner, because the old Wagner is no longer and never will be,” said Anton Mardasov, a Moscow-based military affairs expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.
“Many commanders accused him of treason, saying he was luring people into Redout PMC,” said Lilia Yabarova, a correspondent for Meduza, who has spent years investigating Wagner and other private military companies. Redut is a special force controlled by the Ministry of Defense and believed to be funded by Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire and longtime associate of Putin.
Prigozhin’s apparent death enhances Putin’s power, and puts the Wagner Group under suspicion
Putin has previously hinted that he would be happy to see Troshev in power. On June 29, five days into the rebellion, Putin gathered dozens of Wagner’s commanders and senior commanders, including Prigozhin, in the Kremlin to discuss their future “combat application.”
according to Kommersant correspondentPutin offered the Wagner members the chance to sign contracts with the regular army and continue fighting under a commander named Sedoy, Troshev’s call sign.
“They can all gather in one place and continue to serve,” Putin said. “And nothing will change for them. They will be led by the same person who has been their true leader all along.”
When Prigozhin rejected his offer, Putin accused him of going against the wishes of his fighters, who he claims “nodded their heads” in agreement during the meeting.
“It appears that Putin tried to reach an agreement with Wagner without coming into direct conflict with Prigozhin,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “Putin still needs a Wagner leader to ensure a smooth transition for Troshev, Wagner handing over his heavy equipment to the Defense Ministry, and moving the mercenary army into Belarus without incident.”
After the rebellion, Prigozhin traveled to Russia, to Wagner’s new base in Belarus and even to Africa, much to the shock of many Moscow elites, who saw this as a sign of Putin’s weakness. But it bought the Kremlin time to regroup and decide which of Prigozhin’s assets might be more useful.
The Kremlin was able to gauge the willingness of individual Wagner leaders to compromise; “It turns out that Prigozhin is no longer needed,” Stanovaya said.
The Russian elite draws one lesson from the plane that shot it down: Cross Putin and die
Wagner is the most famous private military company in Russia, but it is not the only one. Similar companies have sprung up with the support of Russian oligarchs, giving Putin an array of proxy forces to carry out his orders while granting him plausible deniability. For at least five years, these companies have been recruiting members from veterans’ associations, government security teams, fight clubs, and local gyms.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s mysterious plane crash, at least two paramilitary groups — either controlled or linked to the Defense Ministry and Putin loyalists — began hiring people for operations in Africa, a sign that the Kremlin was planning to absorb Prigozhin’s security contracts in the region. .
Convoy, a relatively new group that emerged last year as another way to recruit soldiers for Ukraine. to publish Monday’s announcement is looking for pilots to undergo drone training and to be deployed to Ukraine and Africa.
Its leader, Konstantin Pikalov, once worked for Wagner in Africa and He told the Russian investigative outlet important stories“Unprecedented measures have been developed to liberate African countries from colonial dependence… We will give African soldiers new weapons and teach them how to use them.”
Redut, which fought in Syria, was also looking to expand its operations in Africa, with job advertisements recently appearing on the social network VKontakte.
Korotkov said that Redut and Konvoi have not achieved any significant victories in Ukraine, are considered less professional than Wagner and are not well regarded by experienced Russian mercenaries.
But analyst Mardasov said a new recruitment plan that would bring together fighters from Wagner and other private military companies is possible.
“It is clear that the backbone of Wagner will not be happy with the decision to shuffle ranks, but they have no choice,” he said.
Prigozhin spent his last days touring African countries, in an apparent attempt to prevent high-ranking officers in Russia from exploiting this part of his business.
“Prigozhin, of course, was aware of these plans and tried to interfere with them, which was the purpose of his recent business trip to Mali,” Yaparova said.
But it seems that his personal speech to African leaders was not enough. And in Mali and the Central African Republic, where Wagner is prominently present, officials emphasized continuity.
High rates of killing civilians as Russian mercenaries join the fighting in West Africa
The government signed a contract with the Russian Federation, and it was Russia that subcontracted Wagner, sending troops to the country in 2018, said Fidel Guandjika, senior adviser to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
“So Prigozhin’s death is a great loss for us because he helped save democracy in the Central African Republic,” Guandjica said in an interview on Friday. “But nothing will change. Russia can decide to choose another leader for Wagner.”
Guandjica expected Wagner, and not another force, to continue its work, noting the extent of the group’s operations in CAR, and adding that a new rotation of Wagner forces had arrived this summer. But he added that it was ultimately up to Moscow to decide.
We have an agreement with the Russian government, and Russia chooses who we send.”
Touadéra did not personally meet Prigozhin during last month’s Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, but instead met with Putin, in an apparent attempt by CAR leaders to distance themselves from the renegade warlord.
And in Mali, the government has long refused to discuss the presence of Wagner’s forces, constantly referring to them as “Russian trainers.” “Mali works with Russia at the state level, and this cooperation will continue,” said Adama Ben Diarra, a prominent critic in Bamako and a member of Mali’s transitional military council, on Friday.
Prigozhin was also struggling to maintain his foothold in Libya, where Wagner was serving as a paid soldier for Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
Even before the rebellion, Haftar had been increasingly disillusioned with Prigozhin, according to Anas El Gomaty, director of the Sadiq Institute, a Tripoli-based think tank. He said the relationship between the two men had “breakdown dramatically over the past year,” in part because Haftar withheld payments to Wagner in an effort to secure military equipment.
“Prigozhin was supposed to fulfill these things, but he failed to do so,” El-Komati said.
A day before the crash, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunusbek Yevkurov, whom Prigozhin had briefly held hostage at a southern military headquarters during the rebellion, had visited Libya to offer reassurances that Wagner fighters would remain in the country’s east — but under Kremlin leadership. controls.
Mardasov said the visit of Yevkurov, who has extensive ties to Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the GRU, was “direct evidence” of Moscow’s decision to formalize its future relations with Haftar.
Libya is the nerve center of Russian operations in Africa, and acts as a logistical hub linking Russian fighters and equipment in Syria with the Sahel countries.
El-Komati said that Moscow “cannot end its operations in Libya and continue its operations with Africa.” As it continues its grinding war in Ukraine, Russia will likely seek to maintain a strategic foothold along NATO’s southern flank.
David Lewis, a professor at the University of Exeter who has researched Wagner’s illicit business networks, said Moscow had already demonstrated that it would preserve Wagner’s global footprint.
Lewis noted that the group’s presence in Africa was relatively modest—a few thousand men—and easily replaceable.
“It’s obviously a cost in terms of manpower and defense spending, but it’s likely to be seen as a relatively low cost of how Russia benefits geopolitically,” he said.
Ebel reported from London, Chesson from Dakar, Senegal, and Parker from Cairo. Robin Dixon in Riga contributed to this report.