The termination of "Putin's cook". Is this the beginning of purges in Russia?

Revenge on the rebel - in fact, his spectacular execution - is the right message for those who began to doubt the effectiveness of the gang leader, i.e. the Russian president. The dictator once again revealed that betrayal is the only thing he does not forgive.

The plane that crashed on August 23 in the Tver region - shot down or destroyed by a bomb on board - was supposed to host the founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, his right-hand man in the group, Dmitry Utkin alias Wagner, and several important commanders of this mercenary formation. Therefore, this is the end of the story written by "Putin's cook", as he was called in the media, even if the theories that he was not on the plane at all - and with a false passport, he is already somewhere in the tropical countries - turn out to be true.

Was Prigozhin actually on board the destroyed plane? There was no official statement confirming the information until Thursday evening. The remains of the passengers were taken away for analysis, and investigators did not rule out any version of the crash, including pilot error or machine failure.

But that's not the most important thing. It’s all about the fact that Prigozhin was thoroughly eliminated from the public space of Russia. In addition - in a symbolic way, since Vladimir Putin likes it – the accident happened exactly for the two-month anniversary of the "Wagner rebellion". Even if that was a camouflage, thanks to which Prigozhin is still alive, it is undoubtedly his political finish. Perhaps, also the end of the Wagner Group. So, it is worth considering what will happen to Prigozhin's legacy. And we may just wonder about the significance of removing him from Russia’s public life.


Let's start with the fact that the plane destruction with the Wagnerians on board was yet another, albeit logical, link in the chain of events in recent days. The chain closed the case of the "June Putsch" when the mercenaries under Prigozhin set off on a "March of Justice", and Moscow was their goal.

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Saturday, August 19. State media reports that Putin paid a visit at Rostov-on-Don to the headquarters of the "special military operation" (as the war with Ukraine is officially referred to in Russia), which was also the Southern Military District head office. Prigozhin took this military headquarters on June 23. And it was there, almost two months later, where Putin received a report on the situation at the front from General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian campaign. The same person whose dismissal was the flagship postulate of the Wagnerians who seized Rostov and later marched on Moscow. It is hard to find a more demonstrative show of Putin's support for the army commanders attacked so much by Prigozhin.

Moments later, we had two other events that should have been a wake-up call for Prigozhin. A Russian Ministry of Defence delegation landed in Libya to raise the issue - in talks with General Khalifa Haftar - of withdrawing the Wagner troops, stationed under his command for several years, and replacing them with other mercenary groups taken from companies loyal to the ministry department.

  In Russia, information appeared that General Sergei Surovikin was removed from the post of head of the Russian Air and Space Forces. This general, who was considered Prigozhin's ally, disappeared right after the June coup and probably landed under home confinement.

The three events mentioned above, immediately preceding the attack on Prigozhin's plane, should have been a signal for "Putin's cook" that his time was running out. So why did he disregard them? Moreover, he almost exposed himself to his enemies by taking on board all the most important and loyal commanders of the Wagner Group.

He seems to have fallen into a trap. He lost his vigilance. After the Wagnerian campaign in Belarus, after he flew to Africa, where a de facto he paid loyal tribute to Putin, after his companies received state orders, and he was able to shine on the sidelines of the Russian-African summit in St. Petersburg, I think he really believed that Putin would keep his promise given on June 24. And that was a mistake.

Who needs Wagnerians?

The elimination of Prigozhin in the first place raises the question: what about his business assets? Of course, everyone is probably most interested in the future of the Wagner Group. But after all, Prigozhin also controlled a network of companies providing catering for schools and military units, companies exploiting gold, diamonds and oil deposits in Africa and Syria, several media, and above all, an extensive system of troll internet farms and teams of PR specialists, the so-called political technologists. The question about their future is appropriate as they have been serving the political goals of the Russian state for years. It can be assumed that the regime is well prepared for all the assets efficient takeover.
The day after Prigozhin's death, Vladimir Putin described him as a "talented businessman" and expressed his condolences to the family. Photo. Kremlin POOL/UPI Photo via Newscom/PAP
This is also one of the answers to why Putin waited for two months to take revenge on the rebels. Apparently, it took so much time to prepare the takeover scenario of the Wagnerians and other assets of Prigozhin, which are important from the Kremlin's point of view. Certainly, there must have been discussions in Putin's entourage about who should take what after the liquidation of the founder of the Wagner Group.

So, who will benefit from Prigozhin's elimination? Maybe Yuri Kovalchuk, the oligarch closest to Putin - head of the Rossiya Bank, also controlling a large part of the Russian media - will take over the media and Internet parts. What about the Catering? This can be overtaken by other Putin oligarchs. Finally, the Wagner Group - who will seize power over this element of Prigozhin's legacy?

As far as the Wagnerians are concerned, two scenarios are possible: the division and redistribution of the group, or keeping the entire formation to be taken over by some Putin loyalists. In the first variant, the mercenaries that Prigozhin paid until recently will have three options to choose between. Some may go to other mercenary companies, some may be drafted into the army, and the rest will be allowed to return home. This will mainly apply to the Wagnerians who are currently in Russia and Belarus. There will be a bigger issue with those located in Syria, and even more of a problem could be with the troops stationed in Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali. They cannot be just quickly taken out of there and exchanged for other mercenaries, even those associated with the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps this will be one of the reasons why the Wagnerians as a formation will be preserved. Of course, under a different command, and with a different employer.

Another question arises here: who could be the one to take over the Wagnerians (who would leave the name that has become established both in Russia and in the world)? One option is to subordinate them to the Ministry of Defence; another is to take them over by another oligarch, maybe Kovalchuk, maybe Gennady Timchenko, founder and shareholder of the Volga Group investment and Rossiya Bank.

As for the direct commander, there shouldn't be a problem anyway. Andrey Troshev - once Dmitry Utkin's deputy, who did not support Prigozhin's rebellion in June - has already been tipped for this position. This former airborne officer and militia spetsnaz colonel was already appointed by Putin in July as a candidate for the new Wagnerian commander.

An introduction to "The Putin's Great Terror"?
The termination of Prigozhin and the Wagnerian leadership is significant for the political situation in Russia. This is the end of the story written by the June rebellion, but also a closure of a much longer conflict in the military power structures: Prigozhin with the Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu. It used to be possible to turn a blind eye to this antagonism; Putin could think that it was good to play two boyars from the tsar's position. But when the war continues, there is no place for such drama scenes like those performed by Prigozhin. With a climax in the form of a two-day rebellion at the end of June.

The agreement, a kind of truce of that time, did not close the matter because Prigozhin and the Wagnerians did not suffer the consequences (then). This could have encouraged even the military who sympathised with them or shared criticism of the Shoigu-Gerasimov tandem activities. General Sergey Surovikin was quickly removed - although officially only after a few weeks. Furthermore, several heads of a large group of generals have rolled, whom Valeri Gerasimov - the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and First Deputy Minister of Defence - considered rebels. But Prigozhin not only persisted in his stubbornness but also began acting like an important player, enjoying impunity. In the long run, Putin could not allow this to happen.

Therefore, the liquidation of the head of the Wagnerians is primarily a signal for the Russian elite. After all, there was no shortage of voices in June that Prigozhin's rebellion and the agreement ending it was Putin’s failure, showing his weakness. So revenge on the rebel, even a spectacular execution, is the right message for those who began to doubt the effectiveness and brutality of the gang leader, i.e. the Russian president.

Hence, the air disaster of August 23 strengthens Vladimir Putin. It weakens his critics, even the secretive ones. Today, probably no one will question Putin's repeated run in the presidential election (spring 2024). The dictator revealed once again that betrayal is the only thing he does not forgive. And Prigozhin turned out to be such a traitor.

The happiest people about the death of "Putin's cook" are probably Shoigu and Gerasimov. Still, isn't this joy premature? Prigozhin's disappearance does not mean the equal disappearance of other people in the ruling elite who have been sceptical about the actions of the current military chiefs. Let’s take Alexey Dyumin, the governor of Tula Oblast, a former security officer of Putin and his trusted man, even mentioned among the candidates for his successor. The same story is with the FSB, which never liked the army, and most likely organised the assassination of Prigozhin. The liquidation of the " Wagnerians" problem may be the first stage of purges in the Putin regime.

-Grzegorz Kuczynski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

-translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: Supporters and friends brought flowers and pictures of the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin alias Wagner. Photo. EPA/PAP
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