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The author is director of the Russian Eurasia Center at the Carnegie Berlin

The meteoric rise to global fame of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious leader of Wagner’s mercenary group, culminated on August 23 and came to a fiery end. Crashed northwest of Moscow. The entire Wagnerian operation was deliberately shrouded in layers of myth by its creators, and the mysterious plane crash put a final layer of thick veil on it.

But as the smoke clears, one thing has become clear: For the Kremlin, there are currently no insurmountable obstacles to Vladimir Putin’s brutal regime. As a result, Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine will continue unabated.

On June 23, when Prigozhin staged a short-lived mutiny after months of berating the Russian military leadership for its incompetence over Ukraine, and even indirectly criticizing the president himself, many began to wonder if anyone was finally going to resolve their relationship with Putin. problem. Wagner’s troops raced towards the capital in armored vehicles but stopped at the last moment in an ambiguous deal negotiated with the Kremlin.

Wagner’s unchecked disobedience and insults during those months culminated in a mutiny, and the main perpetrators of the humiliation are apparently on the loose, hoping that Putin’s carefully crafted image of omnipotence will finally be punctured. The daily freedom of Prigozhin and his men is seen as a ticking time bomb for the president. Indeed, in the two months following the uprising, the authorities took full advantage of the opportunity to rein in Prigozhin’s operations, dismantle his media empire and destroy his image.

Most Wagner fighters are now under contract with the Department of Defense and incorporated into the regular force. The Kremlin also made sure to reaffirm ties with leaders of African and Middle Eastern countries where Wagner is active.

The day before Prigozhin’s plane crashed, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov visited Libya to meet rebel general Khalifa Haftar. The Kremlin is working on a contingency plan to ensure Russia’s broader interests are not compromised by Prigozhin’s exit. The plan has a chance of success—after all, Wagner’s boss is Putin’s shadow envoy to Russia, not an independent actor.

Prigozhin’s departure has a more direct impact on Putin’s domestic power. If anything some hard-liners take a different look at the final boss of the war, it’s busted. This has been underscored by the precise crackdown on right-wing critics of the Kremlin, such as the recent jailing of Igor Strelkov, a former FSB agent involved in inciting the 2014 conflict in Donbass.

The Prigozhin saga taught Russian elites some new lessons about Putin — his procrastination in correcting mistakes and his emotional swings in the face of the consequences of his own misjudgments. It reminded them of his ruthlessness in dealing with enemies and traitors.

Prigozhin’s departure is therefore unlikely to have an impact on the course of the catastrophic war that Putin is obsessed with. After all, the Russian leader was able to fight the war for 18 months and thwart Ukraine’s efforts to liberate more territory — not because of Wagner’s vaunted performance on the battlefield, but because of Ukraine’s vast resources. The ability of the government to mobilize, the skills of people to help keep Russia’s struggling economy afloat, and Putin’s undisputed status at home.


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