Putin is tightening his grip over what's left of the Wagner Group

  • The Kremlin ordered Yevgeny Prigozhin‘s death in a plane crash last August, according to reports.

  • Moscow has since worked to absorb Wagner’s empire and militia in Ukraine and Africa, analysts said.

  • The Wagner Group has become “marginalized” and “de facto” subordinated to Russia, one analyst said.

Vladimir Putin reportedly ordered Yevgeny Prigozhin’s demise last year — and he’s now trying to do the same to his mercenary group.

Since Prigozhin’s plane crashed last August, many have pondered the fate of the Wagner paramilitary organization without its leader.

In the hours after Wagner’s short-lived mutiny last June, the Kremlin began privately reassuring African and Middle Eastern governments that Russia would take full control of Prigozhin’s global empire.

Prigozhin crossed Africa in a frantic attempt to protect his global business empire, before his untimely demise.

Six months after his death, experts say Wagner’s days operating anywhere in the world could be numbered.

Sergey Sukhankin, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, said there is no doubt that the Wagner Group has become “marginalized” and “de facto” subordinated to Russia’s defense ministry following Prighozhin’s death.

“The fighters will do what they are told” by the ministry, he told BI.

Wagner is shrinking in Ukraine

In the months since Prigozhin’s death, intelligence reports have offered clues about the Kremlin’s efforts to take over his organization, which had been a major player in the war in Ukraine and also operated elsewhere.

Former Wagner fighters have been absorbed into Russia’s national guard, also known as Rosgvardia, according to a report by the UK government this month.

Three former Wagner assault detachments are being integrated into its first Volunteer Corps formation with the likely goal of deploying them to Ukraine and Africa, the UK said.

Another update last week said Wagner’s plan to establish a new headquarters near a Russian barracks is likely a sign of its subordination.

And Russia’s efforts aren’t stopping there.

Russia is taking over Wagner’s mercenaries in Africa

Russia’s defense ministry created a new military unit called the Africa Corps last summer.

The military formation has been actively recruiting former Wagner Group mercenaries and soldiers who fought in Ukraine for combat operations in Africa.

In a Telegram post last week, it promised an unspecified “high monetary” allowance, payments in foreign currency, service under “competent commanders” with extensive combat experience, and medical care and social benefits.

Fighters joining the new group is likely a sign of diminishing allegiance to Prigozhin’s paramilitary organization, according to Raphael Parens, a fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program and an international security researcher specializing in small armed groups.

“Wagner fighters likely have little loyalty to the company itself after Prigozhin’s demise and would be willing to fight for whichever Kremlin-backed organization that exists in Africa,” Parens told BI.

“These mercenaries care about the bottom line rather than an ideological alignment with Prigozhin,” he said.

The Kremlin is likely using the Africa Corps to take over many of the functions of the Wagner Group, Parens added.

However, it’s unclear how successful Russia’s efforts will be: “Prigozhin relied heavily on personal connections and a variety of shell corporations, which may be difficult for a state government to control,” he said.

Instead of being another attempt by Russia to subordinate Wagner, Sukhankin said its recruitment of Wagner fighters is about “making the best of professional mercenaries familiar with the African environment.”

Ukraine and Western allies may be trying to stop Russia

Alessandro Arduino, the author of “Money for Mayhem: Mercenaries, Private Military Companies, Drones, and the Future of War,” said the Wagner Group could either fall under Russia’s control or split into smaller, heavily armed groups serving local warlords.

“Regardless, in Africa, the perception that Wagner or the new creation Africa Corp is protecting territorial integrity against militant forces is on the rise,” he told BI.

Last week, in a video obtained by the Kyiv Post, Ukrainian special forces were shown interrogating captured Wagner mercenaries in Sudan.

The undated video shows one soldier confessing to being part of a Wagner mercenary outfit sent to Sudan to overthrow the local government, per the outlet.

According to Parens, the presence of Ukrainian special forces in Africa highlights that Ukraine is competing with Russia in a new area.

“This signals the Ukrainian government’s willingness to fight and defeat Russian forces via attrition regardless of their location,” he said.

Sukhankin suggested that the operation may be part of “some sort of tacit agreement” between Western allies and Ukraine to battle Russian mercenaries in Africa in exchange for certain military backing for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“Ukrainian special services have acquired considerable experience of waging non-linear warfare against the Russian side and especially against the Wagner Group,” he said. “This is something the West does not have.”

In Sukhankin’s view, this makes Ukrainians “the best option — both in terms of effectiveness/efficiency and cost-benefit basis — in confronting Russian mercenaries in Africa.”

The fate of the Wagner Group, it seems, still hangs in the balance.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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