Sign In  |  Register  |  About Burlingame  |  Contact Us

Burlingame, CA
September 01, 2020 10:18am
7-Day Forecast | Traffic
  • Search Hotels in Burlingame

  • ROOMS:

Russia's top mercenary force faces uncertain future, threat to survival following warlord's apparent demise

Yevgeny Prigozhin was reportedly one of 10 people aboard his private plane when an explosion caused it to crash, though reports of a missile attack remain unconfirmed.

Experts remain split over what the future of the Wagner group looks like following the apparent death of its founder and leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, but they agree Russia will likely try to maintain the success of Wagner while diminishing its influence. 

"Frankly, I think that this private military company model that Wagner has really developed over the past few years, nearly a decade that it's existed, has proven to be very profitable for Moscow," Catrina Doxsee, Associate Director and Associate Fellow with the CSIS Transnational Threats Project, told Fox News Digital. 

"They're able to use these quasi-independent commercial entities to advance their geopolitical goals abroad at relatively low cost, and this layer of deniability and lack of accountability … that’s something that gives enough benefit to Moscow," she added, saying she found it "difficult" or even "just illogical" to give it up.

Russian news outlets reported Wednesday that Prigozhin’s private jet crashed following an explosion, and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Prigozhin was among the passengers killed. Western sources remained skeptical, but the Pentagon on Thursday stated that its initial assessment indicated that "it’s likely Prigozhin was killed" and it will continue to assess the situation.


"We don't have any information to indicate, right now, the press reporting, stating that there was some type of surface-to-air missile that took down the plane … we assess that information to be inaccurate," Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said, stressing that the U.S. would not comment on whether the death occurred as a result of an assassination. 

On Sunday the Associated Press reported that the Russian committee tasked with investigating the crash confirmed Prigozhin’s death in a statement that said genetic testing confirmed that all ten passengers on the manifest were confirmed as dead. 

Sunday's statement by the Russian investigators would mean his reported death would therefore have occurred two months after his Wagner forces briefly mutinied against the invasion of Ukraine, claiming that Russian military leadership had failed the country’s armed forces. 

Prigozhin repeatedly stressed that his protest was not against Putin, with whom he had developed a seemingly close relationship as his mercenary forces succeeded in making several significant gains for Russia in Ukraine, including the then successful capture of Bakhmut. 

Earlier this year, Prigozhin seemed to have gained such prestige within Russia due to his successes that he felt confident in butting heads with the Russian Ministry of Defense, openly criticizing officials for failures in the Ukraine campaign. New leadership spent the following months diminishing Prigozhin’s influence and prominence. 


The success of Wagner, which has advanced Russian interests in other regions including Africa, cannot be overstated: Putin relied so much on Prigozhin’s men that he allowed Wagner to openly recruit troops from the prisons in a Suicide Squad-style agreement to earn a parole following six months of service, which resulted in many hardened criminals returning to public life and upsetting the Russian public. 

With Prigozhin seemingly gone, the group stands vulnerable before a military command that has found it equally troubling as it has been helpful in the Ukraine campaign

Doxsee argued that the value of Prigozhin’s relationships, which many mid-level leaders and operational personnel in the group have developed relationships, knowledge, experience – things that "can’t be easily replicated" and losing them could "lead to potential weaknesses and power vacuums."

"I think it's possible that some parts of this broader network connected to Prigozhin could come under government or military control," she explained. "Of course, when I say network, I mean not just the paramilitary arm … but also all of these resource exploitation companies, the information and influence operations that Wagner’s been connected to, including the buying up of local media stations." 


Doxsee suggested that it’s very possible that the government or military tries to break up Wagner assets and sections, looking to put multiple people in charge rather than allow one person to take control of the group again – the very thing that led to Prigozhin’s outsized influence. 

"You could have one head of the paramilitary services, one taking the lead for the resource exploitation companies and so on … if you do have a fracturing of the network under different leaders, you'll want to still ensure that those different factions still have the ability and the willingness to coordinate with one another," Doxsee said. 

"But then, of course, balancing that against the risk of establishing a new monopoly under one person: I think that, certainly, whatever leadership comes in, whether it's one person or multiple, one of the top priorities for the Kremlin will just be ensuring that it's someone who is deeply loyal to Putin and who will be kept on a much shorter leash than Prigozhin was," she added.

Kateryna Stepanenko, Deputy Team Lead of the Russia team at the Institute for the Study of War, said that Wagner will not likely exist in the same capacity "ever again" – not even as a quasi-independent group. 

"We know that the Russian Ministry of Defense has been conducting a pretty elaborate recruitment campaign targeting Wagner personnel and trying to recruit them into Russian MOD-affiliated private military companies … there are also reports about the Kremlin refusing to pay for Wagner forces that were stationed in Belarus," Stepanenko said. 

"All in all, the removal of Prigozhin and all top three leaders of Wagner is placing the next layer of commanders in a very peculiar place," she argued. "Putin had clearly indicated that anyone who is trying to operate Wagner of this quasi-independent military structure is not doing as Putin would like to and are facing death." 

Most telling, according to Stepanenko, is that no current or potential leaders of Wagner have spoken out following Prigozhin’s death – a sign that the group potentially has no idea how to proceed at this time, especially under the new restrictions they face following their mutiny. 

"There are some private military companies currently operating in occupied Ukraine that are affiliated with pretty prominent Russian officials that don't seem to be integrated under the Russian Ministry of Defense at this time," she noted, but she stressed that Wagner is "not going to be the same."

THE Associated Press contributed to this report.

Data & News supplied by
Stock quotes supplied by Barchart
Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes.
By accessing this page, you agree to the following
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2020 & California Media Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.