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Analysis: Prigozhin’s fate remains unclear and it signals more trouble in Russia


Analysis: Prigozhin’s fate remains unclear and it signals more trouble in Russia

News Portal Space

The bizarre tale of Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former pal-turned-mutineer, just got a whole lot weirder.

The foul-mouthed former head of the Wagner private military company – who ran a business empire that included a troll farm, a multi-million dollar catering company, and a media group – had the temerity to launch a mutiny on June 23 against Putin’s top military brass.

The rebellion was quelled by a “deal” supposedly brokered by another Putin friend (some call him “vassal”), Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. It required Prigozhin to leave Russia and move to Belarus. His men had three choices: follow Prigozhin to Belarus, join the regular Russian military, or stop fighting and go home.

After the mutiny ended, Lukashenko claimed Prigozhin had, indeed, arrived in Belarus. But for weeks, no one could confirm that. Then Thursday, Lukashenko reversed himself, telling News Portal Space that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg and might be traveling “to Moscow or elsewhere.”

In any case, he said, Prigozhin wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Neither were the Wagner fighters at the camps Lukashenko’s government apparently had set aside for them in Belarus, raising questions about the fate of the Wagner boss.

As if on cue, Russian state-controlled TV began broadcasting video of security forces raiding Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg office and residence. His “mansion” or “palace” had a pool, a private operating room, even a “dedicated prayer room,” as the Russian propaganda website RT described it, along with a few sledgehammers – a tool Wagner is accused of using to murder defectors. The security agents reportedly found 10 million rubles (about $110,000) in cash, along with gold, guns, and wigs – presumably for Prigozhin to disguise himself.

Image Here

And yet, a few hours later, there were reports that some of his money and possessions were returned to him. It adds another layer to the mystery as to why Putin has, so far, let Prigozhin remain free even as he fails to abide by the Lukashenko deal.

The Russian army set up roadblocks around Moscow's perimeter as Wagner troops headed to the city in late June.

Before he fell out of favor, Prigozhin was a social media rock star. He was a tough guy strutting about in camouflage, whose fighters could win battles in Ukraine that the regular Russian military couldn’t handle. He swore at military leaders and other elite government officials but crossed a red line when he accused them of lining their pockets and misleading Putin into launching an invasion of Ukraine when there was no real threat.

Prigozhin’s ensuing march toward Moscow – which saw his troops take over the city of Rostov-on-Don, down Russian aircraft, and kill several servicemen – enraged Putin, who accused him of “stabbing Russia in the back.”

It’s well-known that Putin cannot abide traitors, but Lukashenko, using a gangster-like Russian word that Putin famously used about Chechen terrorists, assured reporters that Putin isn’t “malicious and vindictive” enough to have Prigozhin “wiped out.”

An image from the raids on Prigozhin's home and office.

Putin himself, several days ago, hinted at another way to deal with Prigozhin, admitting that the government had paid him billions of dollars, adding that he hoped “no one stole anything,” but that the Kremlin would deal with it.

Prigozhin’s ultimate fate is still unclear, but he is only one of Putin’s problems. What he does about Prigozhin’s valuable companies is another: The Kremlin currently appears to be dissecting his empire, putting control of the most valuable enterprises into more “reliable” hands.

Will he end up in prison? Or in a coffin? The only thing that seems even remotely clear is that Putin will have to settle this “razborka,” a word Russian mobsters use to describe their internal squabbles. And that portends more repression, more “settling scores,” and more fighting behind the scenes in Putin’s Russia.

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