ISW: Russian MoD might be more interested in disbanding Wagner than Putin
Western experts believe that the Russian Ministry of Defense could be more interested in the dissolution of Wagner PMC than Russian leader Putin
This insight comes from an ISW report.
Andrey Zakharov, a former investigative journalist at BBC Russian Service, cited unnamed sources, suggesting that Putin granted Prigozhin permission to continue Wagner PMC operations in the Middle East and Africa. However, Putin instructed Prigozhin not to interfere in Ukraine or Russia during one of their two meetings following Prigozhin's armed mutiny on June 24.
Zakharov further indicated that, in contrast, the Russian Ministry of Defense escalated its efforts to weaken Wagner's influence in Syria and Africa. Prigozhin and Wagner's leadership even flew to Moscow to address this issue prior to Prigozhin's death.
Zakharov highlighted that the future of "Prigozhin's empire," involving military, oil, gas, and gold mining contracts in the Middle East and Africa, remains uncertain. He also suggested that a different Russian power structure, rather than the Russian Defense Ministry, might need to manage Wagner's overseas assets to prevent strain and asset destruction.
The Russian source also claimed that the Russian Defense Ministry's haste to disband Wagner PMC might be because the Kremlin had yet to decide its fate. The ministry may have aimed to seize control of Wagner remnants ahead of any other organization.
ISW lacks independent confirmation of these accounts. If true, it could imply that Putin isn't personally overseeing the dissolution of the Wagner PMC, having delegated this responsibility to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Yet, the prominence of these reports within Russian "military" and opposition circles could also be an effort to distance Putin from Prigozhin's assassination and the potential dissolution of the Wagner Group.
Details regarding Prigozhin’s plane crash
On August 23, a business jet belonging to Yevgeny Prigozhin, an Embraer aircraft, crashed in Russia's Tver region, resulting in the confirmed deaths of 10 individuals. Among the passengers was Dmitry Utkin, a key figure in Wagner PMC. Multiple theories have emerged about the crash: 1) the plane might have been downed by an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system; 2) it could have been hit by air defense systems; 3) an explosion might have occurred onboard.
Subsequently, the Institute for the Study of War suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have ordered the assassination of Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to reassert dominance and seek revenge.
One version from Russian media indicated that an explosive device was planted in the landing gear of the plane carrying Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. This device would have detonated at a specific moment, leading to wing and stabilizer detachment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized that Ukraine was not involved in the plane's downing and made light of the situation by joking that such "aircraft assistance" wasn't what Ukraine had asked for.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speculated that after Prigozhin's probable death, Wagner operatives might continue to destabilize Belarus' neighboring countries.
The US officials suggest that the aircraft, carrying passengers linked to Wagner PMC leadership, was likely shot down by a missile from Russian territory.
The Russian leader also reacted to Prigozhin's death, referring to the Wagner leader as a man with a difficult fate who achieved necessary results but also made significant mistakes.
ISW analysts believe that Russian leader Vladimir Putin's willingness to publicly kill Wagner's leadership is likely to prompt the PMC's Council of Commanders to refrain from publicly appointing successors to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin.