Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 25 August 2023 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Russia Seizes Control of Wagner’s Mercenary Empire After Prigozhin’s Death
The plane crash that allegedly killed Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on August 23 was caused by an explosion, closing the case of the short-lived mutiny in June. Before Prigozhin was killed in the crash, Russian officials made a draft order to seize Wagner Group’s assets and other businesses linked to Prigozhin in several African countries.
Prigozhin died on August 23, exactly two months after he launched a short-lived rebellion in Russia, along with his second-in-command Dmitry Utkin, Wagner Group’s logistics chief Valery Chekalov, and four senior mercenaries. The death of senior Wagner officials was good news for Russian authorities as there is now a smaller risk of a renewed Wagner rebellion. The crash occurred shortly after a Russian defense ministry delegation visited Libya. Deputy Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov met with Libya’s strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar to discuss the deployment of Russian fighters linked to the ministry to replace Wagner mercenaries, already in Libya. Shortly before the plane crash and afterward, a Russian delegation traveled to Syria, Burkina Faso, Mali, and the Central African Republic, where Wagner has its forces deployed. Prigozhin’s business and military empire will be distributed among Russian elites, including defense ministry officials and Yuriy Kovalchuk. Wagner Group has had lucrative businesses and assets in Africa. The authorities in Moscow have to tackle the issue, in particular in the countries where mercenaries stand for Russian interests. According to Bloomberg, some Wagner mercenaries could leave Africa while others will stay while reporting to a new leader in Libya and Syria, as they are scheduled to quit the latter country by the end of September. In other states, Wagner mercenaries will report to the defense ministry. Formally, a link between the Russian military and African states could be ensured by a new entity, perhaps a mercenary group controlled by the defense ministry such as Redut. Moscow cannot afford to swap mercenaries for army officers in some countries. There is much at stake in this struggle for control of Prigozhin’s assets, including companies that benefit from mining gold and diamonds as well as extracting oil in Syria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic and catering businesses throughout Russia. Many of the business assets were not formally owned by Prigozhin but some people loyal to the late businessman, making it complicated for Putin’s inner circle to seize the empire. Besides, Prigozhin’s loyalists have been bracing for it since the short-lived mutiny in June. What’s next for Prigozhin’s media empire? Shortly after the mutiny, he began dissolving the conglomerate instead of selling it to other oligarchs, perhaps also Kovalchuk. But in the wake of Prigozhin’s death, his media assets could be seized. The Kremlin is in particular eyeing what is known as troll farms that have played a major role in Moscow’s disinformation campaigns in Western and African states.
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