The processes surrounding the life and death of Prigozhin go far beyond his personality. His significance for understanding Russia, Putinism, and the fake world of post-truth, created by the existing Kremlin regime, may be called determinative at the moment.
However, it is safe to say that the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin was of much higher importance for understanding Putinism than his life and achievements in the creation of a gangster-commercial ecosystem called the “Wagner Group.”
The first issue to discuss is why Vladimir Putin put his reputation as a leader at risk by allowing personal negotiations with Yevgeny Prigozhin, although no facts about in-person meetings between Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin have ever been published.
Even Dmitry “Wagner” Utkin, a special forces ex-fighter of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU in Russian) of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and later a mercenary of the Slavic Corps and the Wagner Group named after him, was captured in a photograph with Vladimir Putin when Dmitry participated in a reception in Kremlin. But there are no such photos with Prigozhin.
It suggests that Prigozhin has always been a nobody. He was just a bandit who was allowed to run a business and steal money from the Russian budget in order to secretly finance the projects of the GRU of the RF Ministry of Defense, which were supervised by the First Deputy Chief of the GRU, Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseev, and the ex-Deputy Chief of the GRU, Alexey Gennadyevich Dyumin, who negotiated with Prigozhin during his rebellion and campaign against Moscow.
Thus, it remains unclear for what reasons Vladimir Putin tacitly made it clear to the public that the rebel Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom he had first accused of treason, was forgiven. Two months later, he was killed. Why did Putin give Prigozhin two months if he initially knew that he would execute him? Why did he jeopardize his reputation as a tough and unapologetic leader with zero tolerance for betrayal?
Immediately after Prigozhin’s death, Putin noted in his epitaph that Prigozhin made both mistakes and worthy achievements. However, in his speech during the Valdai Forum, which brings together experts and thinkers who sympathize with the aggressive dictator, Putin literally called Prigozhin a drug addict, mentioning that in the bodies burned on Prigozhin’s plane and in the office of the Wagner Group, traces of cocaine were found.
In order to understand why Putin needed all these performances, we should look at the situation more broadly and analyze what happened between Prigozhin’s rebellion and his death.
First of all, on June 27, 2023, when the situation with the rebellion had been already resolved and the conflict had been supposedly settled, the Russian pro-government Telegram channel NEZYGAR (“НЕЗЫГАРЬ”), which is associated with the Deputy in the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation (ADP RF) Alexei Gromov, made a post about the behavior of governors and heads of regions during the rebellion. This publication specifically emphasized that all employees of the ADP RF and the entire presidential vertical worked harmoniously, and all governors actively confirmed their loyalty to Putin during the rebellion.
The main question is why it took a separate Telegram post to publicly say that Putin is supported in the regions, although he was directly attacked by Prigozhin and Wagner. Doesn’t this mean that instead of real loyalty, it is necessary to show the appearance of loyalty to Putin’s government? To understand the current situation in the Russian Federation, one should not ask representatives of the Russian opposition in the EU but study the media landscape to find out which of the governors and regional leaders of the Russian Federation expressed their support for President Putin publicly during the rebellion. And who decided to wait quietly and see what would happen?
This would be very important for understanding the real mood in the regions and to what extent the ADP RF can actually manage the situation with the help of Sergey Kiriyenko, who is responsible for domestic policy.
Second, one should understand that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s largest and most important asset was the infrastructure of mercenaries, who were political and power components in African countries. If in the regions of the Russian Federation, where there were also large numbers of Prigozhin’s people, most of the political establishment was busy with their own affairs, in African countries, Prigozhin was a key manager whose representatives had serious influence on almost all processes.
And, most importantly, he could control the power component of these processes, giving orders to his mercenaries, with whom profound propaganda work was carried out within the Wagner Group. Prigozhin spared no expense in glorifying mercenaries and their crimes against human rights. For example, the film “Tourist” about a mercenary who fought in Wagner units in Africa was successfully presented.
Thus, we need to carefully study what processes took place in Africa immediately after the rebellion. For example, one should pay attention to the fact that the cargo plane of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation, Il-76 with the tail number RA-76845, in the period between the rebellion and the murder of Prigozhin, made about 10 flights to Bamako, the capital of Mali, which is confirmed by open sources. The question arises: what was this plane transporting between Russia and Mali?
To answer this question, it is necessary to mention who controls the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation. This is Alexander Kurenkov, former adjutant of Vladimir Putin, who served in the Federal Security Service (FSB in Russian) and then in the Federal Guard Service (FSO in Russian). He is almost as close to Putin as Alexey Dyumin, the current governor of the Tula region, who followed a similar path in life.
Kurenkov is Putin’s faithful bodyguard, appointed as Minister of Emergency Situations in the same way as Sergei Shoigu earlier and then Yevgeny Zinichev, who had a meltdown after drinking. Kurenkov is definitely not a person capable of performing the functions of a minister of such a large country. However, he is ultra loyal to Putin personally. He served as Deputy of the Head of the Russian Guard, Viktor Zolotov, one of Putin’s closest people.
It was Kurenkov who was entrusted with the transportation of some important cargo between Mali and Russia. And most likely, these were not military personnel, mercenaries or military equipment, which could be handled by military aircraft.
After the plane of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations was able to ensure the complete relocation of important cargo from one place to another (from Mali to Russia), a decision was made and carried out to eliminate Prigozhin and Utkin.
It may be assumed that the aircraft in question was transporting certain valuables from Africa which could belong to Putin personally and be stored under jurisdictions outside the Russian Federation in case any rebellion attempt threatens to succeed.
Putin has prepared a reserve parachute for himself in the most extreme case of an uprising. But it turned out that he entrusted the guard of this “golden parachute” to the person who started the rebellion against him…
Thus, Putin simply could not punish or kill Prigozhin until he moved all his valuables to places controlled by his people but not Prigozhin’s. And when this was done, he gave the order to invite Prigozhin to Moscow and organize his liquidation.
Yes, you might call it a conspiracy theory. But remember that we deal with a completely sick person who built an entire palace for himself in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast.
By the way, Kurenkov’s wife, Milskaya, is directly related to the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, who are subsequently subjected to propaganda in order to turn them into “cannon fodder” that can be sent to the front against the Ukrainians. A corresponding investigation was recently published by Russian opposition journalists.
Finally, in addition to control over processes in Africa, Prigozhin and his family owned quite extensive assets that turned out to be the target of scavengers.
The Telegram channel Provisional Government (“Временное правительство”) described one of the versions of the pursuit for Prigozhin’s family assets after his death, in which Mikhail Fridman’s group of companies “Alpha Group,” represented by its subsidiary A1, allegedly takes part. They hope to reach an agreement with Prigozhin’s relatives for $500 million and gain control over what he left behind.
The total revenue of almost 150 companies associated with Prigozhin, which, according to the Agency, in 2022 amounted to about 75 billion rubles. This is only the visible part of the business empire – various companies and projects mainly in the field of development, construction, food supplies to government agencies, etc. It is also known about the crypto wallet left after Prigozhin with 100 thousand bitcoins with a market value of $2.662 billion, and about his diversified commodity business (oil, gold, diamonds, etc.) in Africa. According to available estimates, Prigozhin’s resource projects in the Central African Republic, Mali, and South Sudan should have brought him at least $1 billion by the end of 2023. From the point of view of A1 management, it will be very difficult to achieve legal registration of all these assets for his family members who do not have tough experience in real business.
Moreover, previously it was told about those who try to get hold of Prigozhin’s legacy. It is known that A1 has extensive experience in putting pressure on beneficiaries and heirs. Thus, Sergei Pugachev, the former head of the ADP RF, previously admitted that the representatives of Alpha Group suggested that he gave up his business voluntarily after his quarrel with Putin.
Prigozhin’s oil business, Velada company, which is engaged in oil production in Syria, has been already signed away to the former policeman from St. Petersburg Vladimir Zlenko. So A1’s proposal for Prigozhin’s children has its own meaningful logic.
According to the Telegram channel, A1 may become Prigozhin’s heir and successor. And, at this very time, Mikhail Fridman, one of the beneficiaries of Alpha Group, returns to Moscow, although for almost a year and a half he tacitly demonstrated his disagreement with the war. Now, the Kremlin has no complaints against him.
Among other things, the A1 company can administer not only financial and economic assets, but also supervise the paramilitary structure of mercenaries, so the traditions of Alpha Group in Russia and Ukraine gravitate towards a tough style of doing business with the involvement of former military personnel and representatives of the special services.
Author: Dmytro Zolotukhin
Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within thegrant comp etition “Public Diplomacy 2023”