I finished writing this article on August 23, in the late afternoon, and immediately sent the material to some readers, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lady Olga Maitland, and also published it on my website and Facebook, and then decided to walk the dog. Before leaving home, I read the latest news from Russia that there was unconfirmed information that the plane with Yevgeny Prigozhin was shot down, and that Prigozhin could be in this plane. An hour later, it became clear that the two leaders of Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the director, and Dmitry Utkin (Wagner), the head of the assault squads, had died.
I decided not to change the text of the article that I finished writing minutes before the death of Prigozhin and Utkin, but to make few additions (part 5, about who is behind the murder of Wagner leaders and how that murder can change the fate of the Wagner Group). I think that for the readers who know about the death of Prigozhin, it will be interesting to read my analysis and forecasts about the future of PMC Wagner, written by me when Prigozhin was still alive.
23 August 2023
Recently, in London, there was discussion on «Prigozhin rebellion» and the future of PMC Wagner, organized by The Defense and Security Forum. At this event, I presented my understanding of the events in Russia based on my articles — The Military — Political crisis in Russia and the PMC «Wagner», part 1 » Валерий Морозов (valerymorozov.com) and The Military-Political crisis in Russia and the PMC «Wagner», part 2 » Валерий Морозов (valerymorozov.com) — (1).
The discussion showed that the story of PMC Wagner requires more detailed analysis. Moreover, for British readers, this analysis should not consist of reflections on multivariate development of events, but concentrate on facts and conclusions that highlight the most likely scenario.
This article I tried to write in exactly that form of presentation.
At the same time, three more significant events took place: the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, the military coup in Niger and the international meeting in Jeddah on the conflict in Ukraine, and all those events were connected with the future of the Wagner Group.
The important feature of the meeting in Jeddah was that in history, Western leaders often gathered to settle and resolve issues of non-Western peoples, countries and regions. In Jeddah, the Global South that comprises most of the former colonies, met to resolve issues of the conflict in Europe, while the delegations of Western countries present at the meeting, as well as of Ukraine, did not determine the course of the discussion and results of the meeting. It was the former colonies of the Far East, South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa that played the main role, and that speaks volumes, as the new world order is increasingly manifesting itself and determining the development of international relations.
Russia was not present in Jeddah and seemed to have no direct relation to the events in Niger, but its influence on both events turned out to be significant, albeit indirect. Both in Jeddah and in Niger, sometimes openly and loudly, and more often quietly and behind the scenes, the words “Wagner”, “Prigozhin” were heard.
Yevgeny Prigozhin was not present at the summit in St. Petersburg, but he was in the city. Some of the African guests stayed at his Trezzini Hotel in St. Petersburg, and according to Russian media reports, Prigozhin met with representatives of the Central African Republic, Mali, and Niger (2).
Photo: Evgeny Prigozhin at the Trezzini Hotel during the Africa-Russia Summit, July 2023 (photo by Dmitry Sytoy, Fontanka)
In this article, I will not tell stories and try to explain my position in my usual manner, but will go straight to facts and conclusions that I have divided into five parts.
Important facts in PMC Wagner’s story
- PMC Wagner in the form that the company became known, was created as a special unit that was subordinated to the Federal Service of Guards, directly to the Security Service of the President of the Russian Federation and the Kremlin. One of the first curators of the PMC, apparently, and this is my assumption, was Viktor Zolotov, the head of the Security Service of President Vladimir Putin, now the commander of the National Guard. The initiative came from Vladimir Putin. It is not known who had given birth to the idea, but I do not exclude that was Putin himself, although the idea could also belong to Dmitry Medvedev, who had experience in developing organizations according to “Russian matryoshka”, Russian doll, principle (1).
- I think that it was Viktor Zolotov who was ordered to create two new special structures within the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but independent of them, and those structures were supposed to perform military and police security functions under the direct orders by the Kremlin, surpassing ministers.
- That structures were supposed to act on the principle of Russian doll, being inside the relevant ministries, but to operate on the orders that came directly from the Kremlin, and not from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense.
- The first one was created as the Russian state organization on the basis of the Internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Internal Troops were transformed into a qualitatively new force — the Russian Guard, headed by Zolotov himself, who was appointed First Deputy Minister of the Internal Affairs and Commander-in-Chief of the Internal Troops, and few months later, Director of the Federal Service of the National Guard Troops of the Russian Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Troops. This new structure received the status of federal ministry directly subordinated to the Kremlin and was created to operate inside Russia.
- The second structure, non-state, under the legal form of private company, was created for operations abroad, and this structure became PMC Wagner. That PMC was subordinated to the GRU of the Ministry of Defense, but under direct supervision and control of the Special Operations Forces (SSO) that were specially created for that purpose and absorbed the experience and personnel of Soviet special units, including the KGB special units “Vympel”(Pennon) and “Alfa”, and the special forces of the GRU itself.
- Zolotov’s deputy and the most trusted Putin’s bodyguard Aleksey Dyumin, who carried out special assignments on the orders by Vladimir Putin, was appointed Commander of the Special Operations Forces. Dyumin was so close to Putin that outsiders, — but those who were the Kremlin’s insiders, — often considered him Putin’s adjutant.
- Aleksey Dyumin was transferred for this purpose from the Presidential Security Service to serve in the Ministry of Defense. Dyumin called himself «Putin’s foot soldier» (3).
Photo: Aleksey Dyumin (left) and Vladimir Putin
- That PMC did not comply with the Russian state structure and legislation; however, it turned out to be able to solve tasks that state structures, especially the Russian armed forces, did not have legal, technical or financial capabilities to solve abroad. It is this organizational structure that turned out to be extraordinarily promising and — as it turned out, perhaps unexpectedly for the Kremlin itself — with a huge potential for development.
- PMC Wagner was assigned the following tasks:
— protection of foreign property and business of Russian leaders and Corporations close to the Kremlin and the Armed Forces;
— ensuring the safety of finances that were used abroad for additional non-state financing of foreign assets of the Directorate of Presidential Affairs, the FSO, the GRU, as well as trusted organizations and persons, including both Russian citizens and Companies, including the foreign of friendly states;
— performance and financing of military, political and special tasks outside Russia, including information and cyberspace, that were difficult, dangerous, impossible or unreasonable for political reasons to entrust the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the GRU, other divisions of the Ministry of Defense, or the Foreign Intelligence Service and the FSB;
— providing the Kremlin with alibi, position of non-intervention and non-involvement in situations that could have negative impact on the image of Russia and its leadership in international affairs and complicate the solution of problems outside Russia;
— financing through «independent” private business the fulfillment of tasks set by the Kremlin, including the creation of sources of financing for special operations abroad both at the expense of private business in Russia and commercial projects abroad, including through contracts with government agencies of the countries, where the PMC was present and operating, as well as contracts with foreign corporations operating in the region;
— countering the military forces and special services of third countries, as well as their similar «private» structures operating in the zone of presence of PMC Wagner;
— creation of combat units reserves capable of quickly joining operations of the Special Operation Forces (SOF) and GRU and significantly increasing their strength and combat capabilities, turning the SOF special units into full-scale army division (from 4.5 to 22 thousand experienced fighters) and even army corps (up to 100 thousand fighters ) capable of fighting in any country in the world on any continent.
- At the initial stage, the Kremlin controlled the PMC through the GRU of the Ministry of Defense. In 2012, Alexey Dyumin, deputy Commander of the Presidential Security Service, was appointed Commander of the Russian Special Operations Forces specially created inside the GRU.
- According to Dyumin, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) comprise of officers, who are “highly educated, very trained, professional guys who know one, two foreign languages, who have very specific training, who can act both independently and in groups. And (it’s) a very closed unit… And the area of operations of the Special Operations Forces is the whole world. (3)
- The PMC was attached to the SOF and comprised of experienced combat officers, who were not able to carry out secret operations abroad and did not meet the requirements of the SOF in terms of knowledge, including language and regional studies, but who were able to conduct combat operations with high efficiency under the SOF in any country in the world.
- That structure required the creation of powerful and efficient administrative and economic service, devoid of any bureaucracy. Several proposals were made (I wrote about the proposal that I had received to become director of the PMC and my refusal in the previous material of this series – (1 ). Evgeny Prigozhin, who was personally known to Vladimir Putin (1), was appointed to the position of «Director of PMC» or, in the Kremlin slang, «Wallet». Prigozhin was also well known to Alexey Dyumin, including through Prigozhin’s work in restaurant business, primarily in the Banquet Hall of the State Kremlin Palace that is under responsibility and control of the FSO, including the Security Service of the President and the Commandant’s Office of the Kremlin.
- It was important that in the 1990s, Prigozhin was one of the key figures in the gambling business in St. Petersburg, and that business was set up and organized by the mayor’s office on the same principle of the Russian Doll, matryoshka. That was a private business from outside, but completely controlled by the leadership of the special services, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the city top officials. In the mayor’s office, Vladimir Putin supervised the gambling «matryoshka» — (4, 5). In 2012, PMC Wagner was created and started operating and developing exactly on the principle of Russian Doll
- Two more factors had influenced the decision to appoint Prigozhin as Director of PMC Wagner. These were his ability to keep low profile and silent when ordered, as well as the availability of compromising evidence on him, his criminal record and imprisonment. Prigozhin was guaranteed to be the «wallet» under full control, but experienced, decisive and effective manager, devoid of moral restrictions that could interfere with the activities of PMC outside the Russian legislation and on the territory of other states.
- In the initial period, the choice of Prigozhin as director of the PMC justified itself. Prigozhin succeeded performing as “private owner”, executive director and “wallet”. He created channels for financing Wagner, ensured functioning and protection of financial flows, arms supplies, materials, weapons and ammunition, operation of system of payments and maintenance of the fighting units, and also ensured the financial and political interests of his curators, keeping himself behind the screen for years. When information about the existence and activities of Wagner was leaked to the media, Prigozhin for years denied his connection with Wagner, until August 2022, the beginning of the participation of Wagner combat units in the war in Ukraine (6). Prigozhin openness to mass media that he demonstrated in recent months, was also determined by changes in the political situation and, above all, by the decision and new tasks set by his curators in the Kremlin.
- That was the initial management structure of PMC Wagner:
— President Vladimir Putin
— Council of Curators (Administration of President, FSO-GRU-SOF), the Coordinator Aleksey Dyumin
— Director of PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin
— Council of PMC Commanders.
Results of the first period of Wagner’s operations (2012 — 2021)
- During the first period, 2012 — 2022, Wagner PMC expanded its activities in Africa, the Middle East, took part in the conflict in Syria, in the Crimea and Donbass after the coup in Ukraine in 2014, and was also used in Latin America, Asia and Europe (suffice it to recall trips of the Wagner “businessmen” Petrov and Bashirov in 2018, to visit Scripal in Great Britain, and to the EU).
- The PMC was especially effective in the Crimea in 2014, as units of the SOF, being directly under the command of Aleksey Dyumin, who commanded operation in the Crimea.
- In Syria, especially after Dyumin was transferred in 2015, from the SOF and appointed Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces, contradictions emerged between the Wagner’s Council of Commanders and the Ministry of Defense, the clan of the Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. Wagner officers retained the memory of their humiliations during the reduction and reforms of the Russian armed forces under “civilian ministers of defense” Ivanov, Serdyukov and Shoigu, who viewed Wagner as uncontrollable, irregular, unguided and sometimes even hostile force that was trying to use the Russian armed forces, the Defense Ministry and the General Staff in the interests of the Wagner business structures and the Russian and foreign corporations and businessmen that have become part of the Wagner business network (7) .
- The PMC grew and transformed into qualitatively new system, which in essence began to repeat state system and became quasi-state that had to act in the interests of the ruling elites of Russia within other states. The most important merit of the curators, director and Council of Commanders was the fact that Wagner, as quasi-state within other states, turned out to be able, acting on the same principle of Russian Doll, to fit into and grow into political and economic systems of other countries.
- Wagner built its activities on common interests with the local ruling elites, blocking contradictions and resolving them on the basis of finding compromises, and not trying to subdue and force local elites, authorities, peoples to act in the interests only of Russian elites and the Russian state.
- Three factors determined and ensured the successful development of the Wagner quasi-state and its Operational System:
— focus on developing relationships between Wagner and local government agencies, ruling elites, business and public organizations in the countries of operation,
— priority of developing interactions with local authorities over obtaining quick and concrete material and financial benefits that were considered as material results of development of interactions,
— obtaining joint moral values and principles both for the Wagner units and for local elites and peoples, and those moral values were declared in Syria, in the Crimea and Donbass, as well as in African countries.
This was facilitated by the legacy of the Soviet Union that created such base for the development of relations between Russia and Africa, the Middle East, many Asian countries that withstood decades of disruption ties and relations between Russia and Global South, of Russia’s pro-Western orientation after the collapse of the USSR.
- The PMC turned out to be important instrument of ideological and even religious influence of Russian civilization in African countries. This happened not only in Muslim countries, where Wagner used the Russian experience of maintaining peaceful relations between religions, as well as the combat fighters from the peoples of Russia, who traditionally profess Islam, but also in countries, where people adhered to local religions and Christianity.
- Wagner contributed to the accelerated spread of Orthodoxy in African countries, the creation in 2021, of the African Patriarchal Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the recognized jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. The impetus for that was the refusal of flocks and parishes in twenty African countries to recognize the split of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. In fact, the split of the ROC in Ukraine through the chain of interactions led to split of Orthodoxy in Africa, that allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to create its exarchate on the African continent.
- The growth of the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church most actively took place precisely in the countries of Wagner presence. It was also important that the ROC started performing services in the main languages of parishioners. Church services are celebrated not only in English and French in countries where these languages have state status, but also in local languages: Swahili, Typhus, Kirundi and Malay. Prayer books have been published by ROC in local languages, and the training and education of priests is carried out in Russia. — (8, 9)
Photo: Father George Maximov in Nigeria. t.me/s/exarchleonid
- By the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, the form of the Wagner organization in the form of “private military company”, despite the functional effectiveness of its curators, director and Council of Commanders, began to come into conflict with the volume, level and complexity of the tasks that Wagner had to face. Moreover, the existing form of organization began to slow down and block the development of the potential of the Wagner project.
The beginning of the end of Wagner PMC and Prigozhin’s “rebellion»
- The war in Ukraine gave powerful impulse not only for the development of Wagner PMC, but also generated its systemic crisis. The war showed the enormous potential of the non-state Russian military forces that had played important, sometimes decisive role in Russian history. Wagner being non-state system created by the Kremlin, appeared as combat force that was extremely optimized, devoid of extra bureaucratic layers, but with socialized management structure, in which the voices not only of curators, directors, commanders, but also officers, fighters of all levels play important role. However, at the same time, the war exposed and aggravated contradictions between the private form of organization, that was used to hide Wagner combat system, and its increased combat and social tasks. Contradictions appeared between the needs of the Kremlin and the potential that Wagner showed and demonstrated, on the one hand, and the threats posed by the very form of “private company” that acted outside the Russian laws, with indefinite status and position both inside Russia, as well as abroad.
- The SOF, GRU and Wagner have turned into a kind of the Guards of the Kremlin in Moscow Tsardom, the Guards of Imperial Russia and Kozack Regiments, now created for operations outside the borders of Russia. At the same time, Wagner became large and powerful military group that was not legally state-owned or controlled, but was subordinate to elite group of people, officials and oligarchs, who were the actual owners and managers of the PMC, standing behind the back of one person, Yevgeny Prigozhin. That Group was able at any moment to transform into a dangerous force capable of overthrowing the very ruling clan that created it, as happened with the Imperial Guards more than once in the history of Russia.
- The transfer of Wagner units to the territory of Russia, the inclusion of Wagner in operational subordination to the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff were necessary from military point of view, but turned out to be unacceptable violation of the laws, rules, order and system of interactions of structures and elements within the state system of Russia.
- Participating in the war on the new territories of Russia, PMC Wagner turned out to be a quasi-state within Russian state and private company with the right to violence, license to kill and huge influence, including criminal, with underground operation net-work in all branches of power, now not in a foreign state, but in Russia.
- The doll figure that was created to work outside of Russia, in other states, with one of the tasks to conceal the involvement of the Kremlin in operations of the PMC, turned out to be leading operating hostility within its own state. Neither Putin’s plan nor the legislation provided for such situation. The Kremlin, including Putin himself, did not think about it. Thus, the transition into its opposite took place: the positive qualities of Wagner PMC turned out to be a threat to the Russian state, its top bureaucracy and the very system of the modern Russia.
- Wagner found itself inside the Russian state system, but outside Russian laws, with all the ensuing consequences. As Putin himself said after the “rebellion” and meeting with Prigozhin and Wagner commanders in the Kremlin, “Wagner PMC does not exist… There is a group, but there is no legal entity!” This was not only confirmation of the realization of the fact, but also recognition of the non-compliance of private ownership with the Wagner’s tasks. It was also the first designation of a new organizational form (apparently temporary, transitional, invented in a hurry) — the “group”, into which the reformatting of the PMC began (10).
- The transfer of PMCs to the territory of Russia brought aggravation of old conflicts and grievances between former military officers who created, got used to, lived and fought in a system devoid of bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in Ministry of Defense under the control of the Shoigu clan. The former Soviet officers found themselves in direct subordination not to the SOF, not to Dyumin, who by this time had been transferred by Putin to politics and became governor of Tula Region, but in subordination to and dependence on Sergey Shoigu.
- Shoigu was considered as possible successor to Putin and candidate for the post of President not only in Russia, but also abroad, including in the West, by those who considered the military, in particular, the current Commanders in the Russian Defense Ministry, as capable of removing Putin from power, if the war in Ukraine drags on. It was precisely the prolongation of the war, according to the Council of Commanders of the Wagner PMC, that the Shoigu clan was engaged in. Information about the attitude of the West towards Shoigu and his Generals reached the curators and commanders of Wagner as well as the clans and special services opposing Shoigu.
- The need and inevitability of changes in the form of organization and management of Wagner also played important role in exacerbating contradictions in relations between the leadership of the PMC (Prigozhin and the Council of Commanders), on the one hand, and Shoigu, Gerasimov, on the other. Struggle has begun over the way to transform the PMC, over its future, including who will manage the new Wagner. The Defense Ministry tried to use the situation in order to absorb Wagner and put the new organization under its full control.
- The change in the form of organization, tasks and functions of Wagner inevitably meant a change in the position and role of Yevgeny Prigozhin, for whom the Kremlin had to find a new place of «work». This forced the curators and Prigozhin himself, as well as commanders close to him, to develop a plan for Prigozhin’s «transition» to a new place of work. This place was supposed to be profitable and promising for both the Kremlin and Prigozhin, allowing him to compensate for the losses resulting from the termination or reduction of his participation in Wagner business. As often happens with the current leadership in the Kremlin, the decision did not lead to the results that were expected, and served as detonator of the «revolt».
The Future for Prigozhin
- Two decisions, about the fate of Yevgeny Prigozhin and about the transformation of the PMC into new system, new form of organization that corresponds to the current and future tasks of the group that the Kremlin set for it, were probably made long before the Prigozhin “rebellion” that was generated by those decisions. In its essence, Prigozhin tried to do what was required from him by the Kremlin and the curators, but in the wrong way that led to unexpected consequences that were undesirable and unacceptable for Putin and the Presidential Administration.
- That is important point. The decision on Prigozhin’s protest and “rebellion” was taken by the Kremlin, but neither Putin himself, nor the curators expected or assumed that Prigozhin would «go crazy», that his criminal past and habits acquired over the years of his stay in prison and criminal groups would affect and shape the form of «rebellion», and most of the Wagner commanders will support Prigozhin out of hatred for the “civilian” generals.
- Prigozhin’s originally intended protest was not aimed at limitless humiliation or at removing Shoigu and Gerasimov from their posts, although some curators and influential businessmen from Putin’s inner circle, who were operating behind Prigozhin, wished to humiliate Shoigu and Gerasimov as political and clan opponents, as well as to take revenge for Shoigu and Gerasimov’s refusal to fight, for example, in Syria, for their financial and business interests (11) . I do not rule out that after Dyumin left the SOF and was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense in 2015, and then, in 2016, when Dyumin moved into politics to the post of governor of the Tula region, there were clashes of clan interests between Wagner and Ministry of Defense in other regions of the world, including in Europe.
- The purpose of the “protest” was not the harsh criticism of Shoigu to deprive him of the opportunity to take Putin’s place, but political promotion of Prigozhin inside Russia and the Wagner Group abroad.
- As the war drags on, the political crisis in Russia is growing, despite positive results in economic development and the Kremlin’s attempts to maintain social and political stability. The inconsistency of the clan power structure with the tasks set by the war in Ukraine and growing confrontation with the West, as well as the inconsistency of the current Russian political party system with the needs of economic and social development, aggravated and have become obvious and intolerable.
- The party system blocks the development of society and operates in the interests of clans and groups, devoid of ideas and public interests. Political parties are completely controlled by the Kremlin and degraded to the limit. They are devoid of ideology, ideas, intellectual potential, they do not have leaders capable of attracting and captivating the people. Voting in elections takes place according to the principle “for the least harm”. This leads to the emergence of uncontrolled protest and radical opposition, beyond the control of the ruling elites, to the creation of broad movement of the people from below, demanding changes in the political system and obtaining tools to influence power (12, 14) .
- This growing protest showed itself in the Khabarovsk Territory and the Far East, where Governor Sergei Furgal, having put the interests of the local population above the interests of political clans and business groups, including those from Putin’s inner circle, having been governor for less than two years, managed to gain so high popularity among the people that he had to be removed and put in prison with obviously falsified criminal case that caused the protest wave unprecedented in Russian history. Despite pressure from the authorities, Khabarovsk residents went out weekly to mass rallies in support of Furgal for more than a year. Until now, being in prison for more than three years, Sergei Furgal remains the most popular politician not only in the Khabarovsk Territory, but also in the whole of Siberia and the Far East. This example speaks of the demand in Russia for new and independent leaders who can defend the interests of the people, as well as for changes in the political system in Russia (13, 14, 15).
- The main threat to the current regime, the ruling clans and elites is coming from the right, from the military-patriotic wing. Neither the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, or the Liberal Democratic Party, nor any other political party in modern Russia can position itself as representative of the patriotic part of the people.
- There is strong demand for a new leader of the national-patriotic forces in Russia. It is important for the Kremlin that this politician be loyal to Putin and the Kremlin, but popular among the people. In the situation of war, Yevgeny Prigozhin had real chance to become that kind of politician, but he needed appropriate promotion.
- The criminal past and the “dossier” on Prigozhin allowed the Kremlin to control Prigozhin and through him the entire national-patriotic political bloc.
- However, in order to move into politics, and immediately to the role of the leader of the national-patriotic wing that was rapidly gaining strength during the war, Prigozhin needed promotion that had no analogues in the modern history of Russia. The operation “Bakhmut meat grinder” and the conflict with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, the open, loud criticism of Shoigu, Gerasimov, “civilian” generals for inability to prepare the armed forces for war and ineffectiveness of the command at the initial stages of the special operation ensured just such promotion of Prigozhin.
- Criticism by Prigozhin was, on the one hand, the punishment for the Ministry of Defense for previous mistakes, and on the other hand, the operation to launch Prigozhin’s popularity among the people and to raise him above the gray mass of weak, insignificant politicians, creating the new leader, popular, active, creative, but controlled by the Kremlin, who was able and ready to dump of political ballast. Thus, the Kremlin planned to create a base for Prigozhin’s transition into the political sphere and for the creation of a new political movement or party under him, capable of uniting and placing under the control of the Kremlin the growing military-political patriotic popular movement.
- The mistake of the Kremlin, Putin and the PMC curators, who were behind the promotion of Prigozhin, was that they gave Prigozhin too much freedom in choosing the form of expressing protest and content of criticizing Shoigu and Gerasimov. I think that in the beginning, they enjoyed the show. The criminal past of Prigogine was not taken into account. It was typical mistake of modern Russian leadership of special services and administrative manipulators: underestimation of the moral factor, mentality and intellect. As a result, Prigozhin, having received command for his own promotion, took the path of criminal showdowns and raids, and then, in the best traditions of Russian history, Prigozhin “went to the tsar with petition” that Putin did not need at all, and that looked like a riot and rebellion (11) .
- Prigozhin’s personal connections to Putin, Dyumin, the Presidential Administration and the secret services, as well as the Kremlin’s long silence, despite Prigozhin’s unacceptable, rude insults to Shoigu and Gerasimov, created suspicions that this rebellion, including in form, was coordinated with Putin and the Kremlin, or that this was the attempt to overthrow Putin by very powerful group inside the Kremlin. That is why the Russian bureaucracy, the Defense Ministry itself, the secret services, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the State Duma did not react to what was happening for long time, and when the command came from the Kremlin to stop Prigozhin, the rebellion already went too far, took the form of coup d’état and began to threaten the existence of the regime and the power of Putin.
- As result of the «rebellion», Prigozhin’s fate changed dramatically. He risked to be knocked out of the main Kremlin «cartridge clip». He remains in Wagner as director, but he is relegated from command of most of the combat units and from making major decisions, even on non-military matters. Officially, as Putin said, the command of combat units was given to «Gray hair”, Andrey Troshev (16).
Photo: Andrey Troshev
However, according to information from other Russian sources, Troshev was appointed commander of one of the combat groups that Wagner is now being divided, and it was this Group that is moving under the control of the Military Command of the Ukrainian front.
- The functions and responsibility of Prigozhin, whether he operates from Belarus or in Africa, are limited to mostly economic and financial matters, while, without any doubt, his actions are placed under strict control. There might be another, yet unknown, “wallet” appointed to control Prigozhin, who will be ready to replace Prigozhin, when he receives command from the Kremlin. Prigozhin still appears in the information field (recently, he appeared in Mali) reassuring that he is still in charge, but information he gives out also under complete control.
- Period of tough testing has come for Prigozhin that he needs to pass without mistakes, let alone disruptions, in order to remain in the second “cartridge clip” of the Kremlin and, having retained his part of the Wagner business, to move on to another job and position. He lost trust of Putin and the Kremlin, and in any case, moved to lower league. He can remain “wallet” — too much is tied to him, and no one can deny his merits — but he most probably, will not be able to return status of the subject in politics. To return this status, Prigozhin must do something outstanding, or Russia has to fall down into acute political crisis, the times of lawlessness.
Death of Prigozhin. Who was behind the assassination?
On August 23, 2023, Prigozhin died. His plane was shot down or blown up while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and that means that Prigozhin has failed to avoid mistakes and do what was required of him. He failed to leave the past behind and move quietly into the future. Now, the future for him exists only as past, and he has become only one episode of Russian history.
His death, like his life, turned out to be loud, the main news of the day in the world, mysterious and tragic with unknown consequences. The circumstances of Prigozhin’s death are confusing. Those who wished for his death can get in many-kilometer line, however, this line will be shorter than the line of those who praise him.
Those who admired him did it loudly, those who hated him did it quietly. They were afraid of him. And after his death, no one wants to take responsibility for it, to declare their success, especially to do it loudly. Prigozhin keeps his enemies silent even after death.
The ambiguity and multivariance of his death, indicate that there were many factors and forces that led Prigozhin to that end in life, and each of these forces was capable of killing him.
It is too early to say who exactly is behind his murder. Which of the forces, groups, organizations and countries directly organized the destruction of the aircraft that Prigogine was flying. It is possible that there were several forces and groups that were preparing his assassination. Someone came the first…
So, let’s consider few variants:
The decision to transform PMCs into Group, including changing its structure and ownership, has already been made by Putin and announced by him nearly two months ago (16).
What does this mean?
First, Prigogine did not understand that his fate was sealed, that he was to do everything he was told without any discussion or initiative. He had to leave Wagner quietly and to go where he was told, but he didn’t do that. He still believed that he could succeed in convincing Putin in his abilities…
Second. Prigozhin did not understand that “wallet” has no right to have his own opinion, that “owner” has opinion, that “owner” decides what to do with the money, how much to spend and in which “wallet” to put the money.
Prigozhin showed his initiative for too long and very successfully, fulfilling tasks set by his owners, but if before the “rebellion”, the tasks included defending interests of Russia, its allies and partners, developing the Wagner PMC, fighting enemies and opponents of Putin and the Kremlin, then after the «rebellion» Prigozhin was ordered just to listen and to execute orders.
He did not understand that. He decided to take the initiative again and prove to Putin, curators, and the Kremlin that he was needed, important, and effective. But this was already not required. Prigozhin had to show his ability to be just a «wallet», to perform and be silent.
He died trying to do it his way…
The New World Order, the Global South and the Future of Wagner Group
- The future of the Wagner Group will be determined by two main factors:
— war in Ukraine as one zone of two armed confrontations: Russia with the West and Russia with Ukraine (the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is the culmination and extremely cruel reflection of the crisis of Russian civilization, the Russian world, and this topic is very complex and requires historical analysis that I will write later in separate analytical material),
— aggravation and expansion of the zone of struggle of the group of countries led by Russia and China for new world order, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
- In situation of protracted military conflict in Ukraine and possible emergence of new military confrontation zones with the West and its allies in Africa, the Far East or Central Asia, the Kremlin can’t afford reducing combat potential of the SOF and Wagner Group.
- The Wagner military units are now, according to Russian media reports, in the process of being divided into groups (perhaps this was one of the reasons why Putin referred to the Wagner as “group”- 10). Those groups will be distributed to zones of escalation of conflicts.
- One of the groups was stationed in Africa before and remained during the war in Ukraine. Similar groups are located in the Middle East, Venezuela and other countries and regions of growing confrontation. After selection and screening of fighters, who participated or were preparing to participate in combat operations in Ukraine, those who appeared sufficiently trained for operations abroad, are being now transferred to Africa and other regions (11).
- Those groups become the basis and foundation for further transformation of the Wagner Group into organization able to promote the world order that is being created parallel to and within the existing one, according to the same principle of the Russian Doll that I have been frequently writing about in recent years.
- For Global South, Wagner Group became not just the Russian foreign legion, but the force that can help to stabilize situation in African countries, ensuring their security, development and advancing towards the creation of politically and economically independent civilizational African macro-region.
- Geographically and economically, the African region, like the Middle East, Latin America, is rapidly integrating into zone of several projects that form new world order. The most significant in terms of territory, political and economic potential is the One Belt, One Road project initiated by China. This project is being supported by BRICS, as well as Iran, Iraq, the countries of the Middle East and most countries of the Far East, Latin America and Africa.
- Other projects are also being promoted, including the project of the Arab countries with Saudi Arabia in the forefront, the Turkish project «Great Turan» and the Russian project that has not yet been clearly formulated, but based on BRICS development and integration.
- The Russian global project is being formed and promoted gradually, according to the principle “within possible”, that is typical of Putin and his political rationalism. The Wagner Group is developing precisely as part of that global project.
- Europe is also part of the One Belt, One Road project, but so far, the governments of the leading European countries, including the UK, France, Italy and Germany, as well as Ukraine and some other countries, such as the Baltic states, have positioned themselves as opposition, discarding for political and ideological reasons the benefits of participating in the project. The joining of the United States to the project presupposes Washington’s acceptance of the Russian-Chinese concept of the new world order that is being transferred into BRICS project. This is possible only after radical and qualitative change in the situation in the world.
- The West remains being bloc of countries that is trying to preserve the existing world order without offering alternatives, reforms and changes acceptable to other countries. Although, the existing order does not satisfy the Global South, BRICS, majority of states, economies and more than 70% of the world’s population, .
- It is the boundaries of the One Belt, One Road project zone that is now becoming the zone of conflicts, confrontations and hostilities. This confrontation is one of the main causes of the conflict in Ukraine, because control over Ukraine makes possible to largely ensure or block the shortest routes for economic and trade flows from Asia, including the Far East and South Asia, to Europe, as it has been for more than two millennia, as well as to the Middle East and to North Africa.
- In order to effectively protect their interests, the countries of the Global South that are not able to create their own powerful modern armies and special services, need third-party forces to assist raising combat effectiveness of their armies, to raise efficiency of their special services, to ensure coherence and coordination of efforts and actions, protection of financial and material flows, including hidden ones, supplies of weapons and ammunitions, training of military personnel, primarily officers.
- Formation of the new world order has initiated integration processes between the participants. It turned out that China, due to fundamental differences between Chinese and other civilizations, at this stage, having huge economic and financial presence and influence, cannot act neither as political, nor military force that ensures the integration process of the Global South. India is also not capable of acting as such a force. Turkey and the Arab countries can support integration processes only in certain countries of Muslim areas.
- With Putin coming to power, Russia gradually began to regain influence and increase its presence in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and did it quietly, including under the guise of PMC Wagner. It turned out that Russia is capable of acting as military force that ensures integration processes in the interests of countries on various continents, using its military potential received from the USSR, but rejected and nearly lost in the course of reductions of the armed forces and military reforms in 1990-2000s.
- Moreover, it was precisely Wagner PMC, the modern Kosack regiment, — legally undefined, flexible, flowing from one form into another, with its non-bureaucratic management system, non-state status, officially distanced from Moscow, but possessing almost unlimited support from the Kremlin, — that appeared to be most suitable for operation in Global South. It was important that Wagner had ability and desire to accept foreign fighters, to create its own economic and financial base in the countries of operation, in accordance with direct agreements with local authorities, taking into consideration interests of local businesses, as well as corporations from other countries. Wagner ability to work with and for corporations of third countries directly and, at the same time, to have the support of the Kremlin and Russian special services — all this ensured effective integration of Wagner into the process of forming civilizational macro-regions.
- Wagner, although perceived in Africa or the Middle East as “Russians”, does not cause cultural and political rejection, like units of Western armies or their PMCs, especially of the former colonial metropolises. Two factors played important role. One was the legacy of the Soviet Union, that out of class interests, for decades supported the national liberation struggle of peoples on all continents, especially in the colonies, and after they gained independence, supported and sponsored development of their economies, primarily industries, and their armed forces. The second was the peculiarities of Russian civilization that was based on traditions of territorial, not national, ethnic or tribal communities. The Russian people themselves were formed not on ethnic basis, but as combination of Slavic and other peoples, tribes, united by single center of power that secured inviolability of traditions of local communities (19).
However, the form of PMC gradually began to come into conflict with the volume and level of its rapidly increasing tasks. The curators, director and commanders supported the ability of Wagner to perform its tasks, but during the Syrian conflict, the contradictions appeared between the private interests of those who led the PMC and the Russian state interests. This was one of the reasons for the conflict between Prigozhin and Shoigu with Gerasimov, when the leadership of the Defense Ministry actually gave its consent to the US military for air strike on the Wagner detachment in the area of the Khasham gas field in 2018, that Wagner tried to capture.
Wagner has become such a powerful military, economic and financial Group that its potential and influence in some African countries exceeded the influence of any local or foreign company. That could bring the loss of control by Moscow over the PMC leadership. For the Kremlin, that was unacceptable.
Integration processes objectively pushed the governments of countries that supported the creation of the new world order and the One Belt, One Road project, to the idea of creating an international military structure based on the Russian PMC Wagner. In fact, Wagner began to move towards creation of some sort of International Council of Curators and transformation into international organization.
Moreover, in many countries, Wagner Group inevitably will be coming more and more in contact with governmental and non-governmental organizations, including military authorities of Western countries that have bases and presence in Global South. That means that new Wagner is obliged to interact directly with the Western organizations, to take into account their interests, and to be ready, if necessary, to put these interests, along with the interests of Russian and African states, above the private interests of the director-«wallet» and his «masters», or even to discard their interests as interfering.
Wagner Group or similar entity can’t be privately owned. It became clear few years ago, but the decision, as it frequently happens in modern Russia, was delayed. Wagner, at least the significant part of it, had to be to made absolutely legal, operating in accordance with Russian and international laws and agreements. Inside the large nesting dolls of the new Wagner, it was necessary to create smaller ones, the hidden channels of money, weapons and materials flows had to be enveloped into another “doll”, and that made Wagner qualitatively different.
The private Matryoshka became too more complex. It grew, and Prigozhin, as well as most of his team, with their criminal mentality and psychology, were not suitable for the role of the executors of the new project. That was proved by the events of June 2023, the Prigozhin’s “rebellion”.
The Kremlin will determine the future of Wagner, and we will soon see whether we like it or not.