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writer is a professor at Arizona State University and director of the Future Frontiers Project at New America think tank.She’s writing a book about the untold history of the Wagner Group
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ferocious shadow army changed the course of Russian history. Few stories are more mysterious than how a convicted criminal who became a restaurant mogul turned the Wagner Group into a great business. brand are valued globally. But this week’s plane crash that killed Prigozhin and nine others proved that the more undeniable the Wagner Group’s rampage, the more President Vladimir Putin sees Prigozhin as a liability.
Even before the formation of the paramilitary cartel in 2014, Prigozhin’s career was intertwined with Kremlin intrigue and shenanigans. After his meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election became known, his name conjured up clandestine operations, clandestine influence operations and blurred lines between the Russian state and Putin’s personal politics.
It’s no surprise, then, that Prigozhin’s ending is fraught with mystery. How did the plane explode? Was there a bomb hidden on board? We may never know, but everyone knows this day will come. The vassal Prigozhin marched on Moscow after outspokenly humiliating his overlord Putin in June. Wagner’s rebellion could not go unpunished for long.
The insidious assault on information has been a hallmark of Putin’s unwavering control over Russia for decades. With disinformation campaigns, propaganda machines and media censorship used as tools of control, silencing the Kremlin’s critics — even loyal ones — has become the norm. Prigozhin’s relationship with Putin is significant as a symbol of the regime’s modus operandi: the blurring of lines between state-sanctioned actions and private interests, which thrive on ambiguity and subversion.
In Africa and the Middle East, it is clear that Dmitry UtkinThe operational commander of the paramilitary forces, who is also thought to have died in the crash, took pleasure in wasting the lives of thousands of people who did not look or sound like them.Wagner’s troops under Utkin’s command did not hesitate to use spinning wheel, the Slavic version of the swastika.They even once carved the name of their unit on a man’s torso syrian man They were tortured, mutilated and burned on camera.
Yet the spinning spell that Prigozhin has helped Putin cast may not last forever. In Ukraine, as thousands rotting in trenches, the voices of pain rang out clearly. The horror and human toll of the Wagner Group’s geopolitical tactics were suddenly laid bare in Donbass. At the same time, Prigozhin was clearly appalled by what Putin’s fascist allegory meant for his own army in terms of resources and success. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries aimed to resurrect the pan-Slavic Valhalla in the name of imperial St. Petersburg, leaving only the hollow Russian idea of a united Eurasia against a liberal West.
Earlier this summer, Prigozhin publicly declared Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine a hoax, poignantly exposing the illusion that the conflict could be fought without devastating battlefield losses. The months-long bitter struggle of the Wagner Group at Bachmut – bloody human attacks, shell starvation, field full of dead bodies — all of which underscore the fact that Putin is lying when he tells the Russian people that all the country’s resources don’t need to be fully mobilized to win.
Now, as we no longer wait for the ax of vengeance to drop, many are curious about the next chapter. Will Wagnerian fighters who bravely challenged Putin’s regime face reprisals? That seems doubtful, at least in the short term. The Wagner commanders have not caved in and joined the group’s paramilitary rivals, Redouteither seek to do so now, or be highly motivated to disappear.
But while the Wagner brand may disappear, other brands will take its place. As long as Putin is in power and his army is in disarray, irregular paramilitary forces will continue to be the crutch of a regime paralyzed by sanctions and corrupted by corruption. We can trust that Russia’s GRU military intelligence remains committed to deploying more of this intelligence. The regime needs ill-gotten gains from resource extraction in Africa to survive. Prigozhin may be dead, but his legacy lives on. The warlord’s downfall is also living evidence that Putin’s attacks on the truth will continue unabated until the end of his term.