Yevgeny Prigozhin was buried, but the fate of his Wagner mercenaries is still unknown. Will the private army oppose Vladimir Putin and fight for Ukraine?
He is said to have gotten loud in the Kremlin. After their failed coup attempt, Vladimir Putin is said to have ordered Yevgeny Prigozhin and the commanders of the Wagner mercenaries to Moscow in June. The Russian president “yelled at the whole gang for three hours,” said a Wagner commander in an interview with the news platform “Meduza” in August.
As far as we know, it was the last meeting between Putin and his former chef. Less than a month later, the Wagner boss’s plane crashed – and the mercenary troop was decapitated in one fell swoop.
There is still no evidence that Putin is responsible for Prigozhin’s alleged death. But the message from the plane crash was clear: It’s not good for health when a private army starts a mutiny and then breaks it off. When Putin rages and screams, not even Prigozhin was safe.
But what happens to the Wagner mercenaries? Prigozhin’s fighters could continue to fight for the Kremlin – but they could also turn their backs on Putin. In any case, the rumor mill is churning in Russia, and Prigozhin’s presumed death is still causing great concern.
Prigozhin video causes unrest
Above all, a seemingly insane video by Prigozhin is still making waves in Russia. Above all, it was also shared in numerous telegram groups such as “Grey Zone”, which are said to be close to Wagner. “For those who are currently arguing about whether I’m still alive or not: How am I doing?” Prigozhin says in the video. “It’s the weekend now, the second half of August 2023. I’m in Africa. My fans are discussing my elimination, but everything is fine.”
Experts rate this video as fake, but it hits a nerve. Because in Russia, many people assume that Prigozhin’s death was staged. According to surveys, many people are convinced that the Wagner boss is actually still alive.
Prigozhin is still deeply rooted in the minds of many Russians. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few weeks someone decided to dig up Prigozhin’s body from the grave to get to the bottom of the truth once and for all,” writes Russian blogger Andrei Okun on Telegram.
It’s slowly coming to an end
Similar to Prigozhin, his Wagner mercenaries have heroic status among parts of the Russian population. They were deployed in the annexation of Crimea, fought in Syria and in many African countries. And most recently, it was Prigozhin’s fighters who captured Bakhmut in Ukraine in early 2023. Because of these merits too, Putin does not allow them to be branded as traitors and gives them the chance to integrate into the army.
Despite this, the Wagner mercenaries are sidelined after Prigozhin’s presumed death. Thousands of fighters are still stationed in Belarus or in some African countries like Mali – and they now face an uncertain future.
Before the mutiny in June, Prigozhin’s army is said to have numbered around 25,000 fighters. Apparently, less than half of the mercenaries went to Belarus after the failed uprising, some have already signed contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense and are likely to be integrated into the Russian army. In the past month, the mercenaries are said to have been stripped of their heavy weapons, and the Kremlin reportedly stopped paying them.