Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny PrigozhinReuters

Dr. Salem AlKetbiis a UAE political analyst and Federal National Council candidate

Rather than making significant headway in confirming or refuting Western suspicions regarding the unexplained demise of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian Wagner group, who has supposedly faced multiple “deaths” in recent plane crash incidents only to reemerge, President Putin has effectively confounded Western assessments. This has captivated the attention of Western intelligence circles as they delve into the mystery surrounding his close friend’s fate, all while attempting to decipher the Russian President’s future intentions.

What remains certain in this entire affair is that Putin’s current interest lies in Prigozhin’s absence and in the restoration of the Russian ruling system’s public perception. This interest stems from the persistent rumors of a coup attempt, which, in my view, poses a more significant enigma than the fate of Prigozhin or his improbable survival.

The tale of Prigozhin, from its inception to its conclusion, brims with enigmas that challenge the intellect and beckon us to delve deeper in our quest for understanding. Spanning from his early days as a “criminal” to his eventual ascent as the owner of the world’s largest private security firm, a plethora of narratives and accounts leave Western intelligence agencies eager to uncover the truth. Their goal: to piece together the puzzle and gain insight into the covert workings within the Kremlin’s walls.

In Prigozhin’s absence, whether due to his demise or other circumstances, he has transformed into one of the foremost legends in the realm of private security enterprises worldwide. He is the figure who, as the story goes, dared to challenge the authority of one of the world’s major powers. He is also the individual who, as the tale unfolds, found himself ensnared in a plane journey that brought together all its leaders and deputies, officially drawing the curtain on a captivating narrative that held the world’s attention for several months.

His absence also prompts a more pressing discussion regarding the fate of Wagner and its strategies for the foreseeable future, given its newfound status as one of Russia’s pivotal global assets. The significance of this matter doesn’t merely revolve around Prigozhin’s personal journey but rather hinges on the crucial strategic roles undertaken by the Wagner group. These roles extend beyond the Ukraine conflict and span multiple countries and continents, most notably Africa, where the group has firmly established itself as Russia’s vanguard in the geopolitical contest with the West for influence on the African continent.

In recent years, Wagner has assumed a paramount role in Russia’s worldwide strategic expansion. Recent media reports indicate an ongoing process of comprehensive restructuring within the group, resulting in a reduction of its military strength by approximately one-quarter. This downsizing involves the removal of numerous individuals with unwavering loyalty to the former leader.

Wagner is no longer solely associated with Prigozhin as a “brand,” particularly since the Russian state has openly acknowledged its true sources of funding. From start to finish, it has been evident that Wagner is a purely Russian creation and not a company exclusively owned by the President’s associate, as previously claimed. Consequently, the group continues to excel in its missions, owing to its professionalism and remarkable capacity to adapt, mobilize, transform, and operate effectively in diverse conflict environments. These are qualities that are not commonly found in conventional armies accustomed to strict protocols, especially when it comes to making on-the-spot decisions in the field, a trait often prevalent in semi-military groups exempt from traditional regulations.

Hence, it is reasonable to anticipate that Wagner will continue to operate and even expand, albeit under the direct oversight of Russian generals. Prigozhin had expressed doubts about their competence and effectiveness, particularly targeting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. This skepticism led to direct clashes with various individuals. President Putin himself identified these confrontations as mistakes made by the former leader of the group, and they are unlikely to go without repercussions.

Wagner isn’t merely a combat unit; it constitutes a comprehensive system serving the objectives of Russian foreign policy. Its military engagements are just one facet of its activities, not the entirety. The group also conducts extensive international media campaigns to shape public opinion in African nations where it is involved in mining, gold exploration, and diamond trading across several African countries.

Furthermore, it has evolved into an institution for the promotion of Russian culture, establishing Russian cultural centers and radio stations in select African nations.

President Putin showed adeptness in outmaneuvering Western counterparts, leaving anti-Russian intelligence circles in a state of uncertainty regarding the trajectory of the Wagner narrative. This strategic move has enabled him to reclaim the upper hand in the management of the broader geostrategic conflict, one that extends beyond Ukraine and seemingly stretches into other global regions in the near future.