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Did Prigojin’s Death Strengthen Putin?

What Does the Attempted Rebellion by Prigojin Mean for Putin and the Ukraine Conflict?

Many political observers closely following developments in Russia had considered the possibility of the leader of the Wagner group, Yevgeniy Prigojin, meeting his end. Among these individuals, Russian research journalist Irina Borogan finds the manner of Prigojin’s death surprising. Borogan, in her assessment to DW, acknowledged that while the exact cause of his death may never be fully disclosed, she described it as “new” and peculiar.

According to Austrian political science expert Gerhard Mangott, who studies Russia closely, there is a high likelihood that Prigojin’s death was an assassination carried out on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his evaluation given to DW, Mangott listed possible reasons for this likelihood, including revenge for Prigojin’s attempt to tarnish Putin’s reputation during the June rebellion and as a “warning to opposition figures at the administrative level.”

An Indirect Challenge to Putin Official information suggests that the leader of the private military group Wagner, Prigojin, was on a special plane that crashed on Wednesday. It is claimed that Dmitriy Utkin, who was instrumental in the formation of the private military group, also perished in the downed aircraft. There is evidence suggesting that the plane en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg exploded mid-flight.

Signs had emerged suggesting that the tension between Russian President Putin and Wagner leader Prigojin, which began with the attempted rebellion, might have been resolved. Prigojin, who appeared to move freely, had released a video regarding potential missions for Wagner in Africa.

Rebel Prigojin had attempted an armed uprising against the Russian military leadership at the end of June. While some of Prigojin’s fighters occupied the Southern Military District Headquarters in Rostov, others began advancing towards Moscow. Prigojin had given orders to shoot down helicopters and aircraft attempting to hinder their progress. Putin labeled Prigojin a “traitor to the homeland.” Nevertheless, there was no showdown between Putin and Prigojin. Prigojin was to be left untouched but would go into exile in Belarus, but he returned.

The rebellion attempt was met with shock in Russia. In the midst of the war with Ukraine, Prigojin challenged Putin militarily in a way no one had done before. During the rebellion attempt, Putin appeared weak and vulnerable for hours. Months before this rebellion attempt, Prigojin had publicly criticized Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov, both close to Putin, accusing them of “incompetence” in the Ukrainian war. Prigojin had also indirectly criticized Putin, expressing doubts about the reasons for the war.

Little Impact on the Ukraine War Things were different in the past. Prigojin was considered a loyal figure and his mercenaries were assisting the Russian military in capturing certain areas of Ukraine. Most recently, with Wagner’s support, the city of Bahmut was taken at the end of May. Putin and Prigojin had known each other since the 90s. Prigojin, as the leader of the initial special units, carried out tough and dirty missions in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa at Moscow’s behest.

Marina Miron, a faculty member at University College London (UCL), suggests that Putin may not be concerned about a second rebellion attempt, which may have disappointed Prigojin’s supporters. Miron, speaking to DW, also adds that Putin seems to have found a solution to control the Wagner group.

Experts believe that Prigojin’s death will not have a significant impact on the Ukraine war. Specialists point out that Prigojin’s fighters were significantly weakened during clashes in the spring and are now left without leadership. The Russian military has been fighting without the support of Wagner fighters for three months, and according to Putin, the army is in better shape than before.

Is Putin Still Supporting Shoigu? Gerhard Mangott asks, “The question is, what will happen to Wagner’s mission in Africa? The group has carried out numerous covert operations on behalf of Russia in that region, significantly strengthening Russia’s influence in African countries.” Mangott suggests that we must wait to see what will unfold.

Mangott also points out that it is uncertain how long President Putin can maintain his grip on power. He emphasizes that this is tied to the course of the war in Ukraine, and we must wait and see how much longer Putin will support Defense Minister Shoigu.

Some radical nationalist groups in the country, alongside bloggers who write about the war, are demanding Shoigu’s removal from office, along with Prigojin. However, these groups’ support for the war also holds importance for Putin. Therefore, he has met with some of these figures personally.

The article, originally penned by Roman Goncharenko and initially published on DW.com, has been translated into English by Politurco.

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