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Friday, April 12, 2024


    Wagner chief’s death benefits West, poses threat to Russia: Analyst

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    Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, is presumed dead in a plane crash exactly two months after he led an aborted mutiny against the Kremlin.

    Prigozhin and Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin were among the 10 passengers on a private jet that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday, none of whom are believed to have survived.

    Describing Prigozhin as the “perfect enemy for everybody,” International Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov told Anadolu that his death would benefit the West.

    He pointed out that Prigozhin was a “very successful adversary of the West in Africa.”

    “A lot of African authoritarian regimes asked him about his services, and his services in some African countries were in high demand. Of course, if Prigozhin disappears or the Wagner organization disappears, the West will benefit from this,” he said.

    “First of all, France, of course, because Prigozhin mostly fought against French presence in African countries and his most successful operations were in the former African colonies.”

    He said the Wagner chief was not someone the West would “like to see instead of (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.”

    Prigozhin was also “an adversary” for Putin, explained Ignatov, the Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Russia.

    “He didn’t blame Prigozhin directly in the mutiny. But, of course, he blamed the Wagner group,” he said.

    Since the plane crash, many around the world have been speculating about Putin’s role.

    That was fueled further by the Russian government’s silence, according to Ignatov, referring to the lack of any statements from the Kremlin or other senior figures.

    “We are in a situation where everybody understands who could be behind this,” he said.

    Over in the US, President Joe Biden responded to a question about the crash by saying that “there’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.”

    “So, he (Biden) said that Putin is involved in so many things in Russia that it’s difficult to say that he is not involved somehow in this situation,” said Ignatov.

    That, according to the analyst, was a “very smart” response as the US understands that Russia is “totally different” than other countries.

    When Putin did eventually make a statement late on Thursday, he offered condolences to the families of the victims, but did not confirm by name that Prigozhin had died.

    Ignatov also pointed out that Russian state media was also not giving much coverage to the crash, which “doesn’t look like a normal situation.”

    Implications for Africa

    The situation in Africa with regards to Wagner presence could change, but that will depend more on “how African countries will read this story,” according to Ignatov.

    “It will be very interesting to understand how this model of Russian presence will change, or if it changes at all,” he said.

    “Wagner was a unique organization. It played inside the gray zones. On the one hand, it was a non-state actor, but on the other, it was connected and paid by the state.”

    This model benefited both Russia and Prigozhin, he added.

    Going forward, Ignatov said the most plausible scenario would be that Wagner personnel in Africa and the Middle East would sign up with new private military companies, or even the Russian Defense Ministry.

    “There is a lot of information that the Russian Ministry of Defense founded different military companies and these military companies could just hire people who are in Africa or in the Middle East,” he said.

    A problem that Ignatov foresees is that it would be difficult for new Russian private military companies to separate themselves from the state.

    “Everybody would treat themselves as a front … or as representatives of the Russian state, and it could change a lot for Russia in Africa,” said the Crisis Group expert.

    “It will be difficult for Russia to explain that it’s fighting against colonization, or it’s trying to decolonize Africa … because Russia is also behaving like a colonizing power.”

    Wagner’s future and threat to Russia

    Ignatov explained that Wagner split into three different groups after the June rebellion against the Kremlin: the first stayed in Russia and signed contracts with the government, the second relocated to Belarus, and the third remains in Africa and the Middle East.

    He said Wagner as an organization changed a lot during the Ukraine war.

    The people who fought with Prigozhin in Ukraine “have their own mythology” and the Wagner chief became a cult figure for them, said Ignatov.

    “These people are the most loyal, most indoctrinated (Wagner) fighters … and these people could pose a risk to the Russian authorities,” he warned.

    They could want revenge for what happened to Prigozhin, which could have “consequences for many people,” he added.

    About the crash itself, Ignatov said the main theory at the moment is that there was a bomb on the plane.

    “Somebody installed a bomb on the plane. It was not in the luggage, it was installed somewhere in the plane,” he said.

    “So that was not accidental because they used a Russian airport and this plane was in Russia, not somewhere abroad.”

    He also pointed out that Prigozhin “came to Moscow using another plane and then took this plane to fly to Saint Petersburg.”


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