“Who are you and what happened to hot dog guy?”
“The caterer is dead. You report to us now.”
The Russian Defense Ministry was the target of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ill-fated attempt to scale the second-to-last rung on the ladder up Russia’s political hierarchy. Now, the inept command he sought to usurp is in the process of commandeering and subjugating his far-flung mercenary empire.
Last week, after Prigozhin was assassinated on a private jet along with the rest of the Wagner Group’s top leadership, Vladimir Putin issued an order demanding Prigozhin’s army sign an allegiance oath pledging fealty to the Kremlin.
Now, with Prigozhin (or whatever was left of him) buried in St. Petersburg, subordinates of his bête noire Sergei Shoigu are in the process of subsuming Wagner’s operations (and operators).
According to a trio of sources cited by Bloomberg on Thursday, Wagner’s activities in the Central African Republic will now be conducted under the supervision of an arms contractor linked to the Russian Defense Ministry. Two separate sources said “all” of Wagner’s overseas operations will answer to the Russian military going forward.
I’m not sure that bodes well for the group’s effectiveness. Russia had one proven military commander and he’s on leave, possibly forever.
Whatever you want to say about Prigozhin and Sergei Surovikin, they were effective. Now, both are sidelined, Prigozhin because he’s dead and Surovikin because he’s on “vacation” following an investigation into his alleged role in Prigozhin’s failed uprising.
Beyond operational concerns, the other problem for Putin is that his plausibly deniability (which was never very plausible) vis-à-vis Wagner is gone. Whatever Wagner does can henceforth be officially attributed to the Kremlin. And a lot of what Wagner does isn’t the sort of work you’d generally want to take credit for.
Putin moved almost immediately to assert control over Wagner’s activities in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s mini-coup, but now that effort is apparently more overt. The Kremlin will have to oversee the sort of flagrantly criminal, unsparingly barbarous arrangements that won Wagner its infamous international reputation. That’ll entail preserving security-for-gold and oil deals, including a partnership with CIA asset-turned warlord Khalifa Haftar.
On Monday, August 21, Prigozhin released what would be his final recruiting video from Africa. He should’ve taken a hint: On Tuesday, Shoigu deputy Yunus-Bek Yevkurov showed up in Libya to discuss Putin’s plans for a post-Prigozhin world. It was the first official visit of a Russian military delegation to the country.
Wagner’s operations, Yevkurov apparently told local officials, including Haftar, would be transitioned to the Defense Ministry. The next day, Prigozhin went skydiving north of Moscow.