Wagner has been decapitated – the mercenaries should fear the future

Much of Wagner’s senior leadership is said to have been on the jet that crashed in Russia. Western security officials believe Yevgeny Prigozhin and his group may have been overconfident, writes Kim Sengupta – and fallen foul of Vladimir Putin’s ruthlessness

Thursday 24 August 2023 19:37 BST
<p>Bodies being taken away from the jet crash site in Russia </p>

Bodies being taken away from the jet crash site in Russia

Not only was Yevgeny Prigozhin’s name on the passenger list of his doomed Embraer jet, but also those of his closest military and civilian associates and of veteran Wagner commanders. Their deaths will leave the mercenary group without a viable leadership as it faces a fraught and uncertain future. The destruction of the plane has ensured that not only has the man who dared an attempted coup against Vladimir Putin been eliminated, but also others who would have been expected to lead a backlash by his mercenaries. Wagner has effectively been decapitated.

The removal of the group’s top echelon also raises the issue of who will take over lucrative operations in the Middle East and Africa, with the likelihood that they will pass into the hands of the Kremlin and its allies. It is not known what commercial interests Prigozhin’s wife, Lyubov, who is on holiday in India according to Russian opposition sources, has in her husband’s businesses and what she stands to inherit.

Among those aboard the plane was Dmitry Utkin, the co-founder of the group whose call sign Wagner – after Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer – was adopted as the group’s name. The former military intelligence and Spetsnatz (special forces) officer was regarded as Prigozhin’s right-hand man and was thought to have organised the march on Moscow in June.

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