So, Yevgeny Prigozhin, erstwhile leader of the Wagner Group and, for a short while anti-Putin mutineer, has met his untimely end tonight.
Forgive me for saying that I’m not surprised. His card was marked the moment he called off his Wagner fighters after they had withdrawn from the Bakhmut battlefield, entered Russia and taken over from the regular military in Rostov-on-Don, and marched halfway up the motorway to Moscow in what seemed to all the world as an attempted coup.
Although he put a brave face on it at the time, Putin was undoubtedly seriously rattled and his authority seriously threatened. It must have proved hugely humiliating for him to have to use the services of his puppet and acolyte, President Lukashenko of Belarus, to intervene and persuade the Wagner leader to call off his dogs of war.
Putin is not the sort of person to forgive or forget such a slight, and now Prigozhin’s name has been added to the ever-lengthening list of those Russians who have invoked Putin’s ire and who have died in “odd” circumstances
The still sketchy details, as we understand them, are that the plane in which Progozhin and other leaders and colleagues from Wagner were travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg is reported to have crashed. It’s a journey he has taken numerous times before and I suspect he would have not thought much about it. But on this occasion it never arrived.
The Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone has reported that the jet in which he was travelling was shot down by air defences in the Tver region, north of the Russian capital. How very convenient for Putin, and no doubt the blame for this “mistake” will rest with someone else. He doesn’t like to get his own hands dirty.
So Prigozhin, Putin’s old chum from his St Petersburg KGB days who went on to become one of his closest confidants, has been deemed to be surplus to the regime’s requirements and has been eliminated.
Russian history is replete with similar stories of political betrayal of former colleagues and their subsequent demise. Think of Lenin and Kerensky (who survived through exile) and Stalin and Trotsky (who didn’t. He was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940). During Putin’s time in power, think of Navalny (imprisoned) or Litvinenko (poisoned in London in 2006).
The message to other would-be dissidents is clear; do not dare to cross Putin if you want to see your old age.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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