The Moscow Times reported on Tuesday, Aug. 29, citing three separate sources close to the Kremlin, that there is the threat of a new military rebellion resulting from the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Head of the private military company (PMC), in a plane crash six days ago.
Initial efforts are apparently aimed at the Serafimovsky cemetery in St Petersburg, where there were signs earlier on Tuesday of preparations for a major security operation around the funerals of some of the Wagner figures who died alongside Prigozhin which were reported to be held later in the day.
It was also reported on social media both in Russia and Ukraine that Putin has demanded that steps are taken to ensure that Prigozhin’s funeral and those of his associates that died with him are not allowed to become a “major public event.” In particular Russian security and intelligence agencies are working to ensure that the funerals do not become a rallying call for Wagner supporters and a repetition of June’s mutiny.
Other sources said that Putin has been badly shaken by the images of PMC tanks getting so close to Moscow with little or no opposition. Even more concerning for him was the fact that Prigozhin not only defied Russia’s military command but seemed to have implicit support from senior officers, such as Sergey Surovikin the former Commander-in-Chief Moscow’s Russian air forces. It was likely that the Kremlin considered this the most serious threat to Putin’s regime after more than two decades in power.
A number of analysts, including Oleg Ignatov from the International Crisis Group (ICG) feels that not only do many members of the Wagner group believe that the Kremlin was behind Prigozhin’s demise but that view is shared by small but significant sections of the Russian public.
Putin is concerned that he may lose control of the members of the group who are battle-hardened by their experience in Ukraine, Syria, Africa and elsewhere, many of whom have publicly expressed allegiance to their founder rather than the state. Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political consultant and former speechwriter for Putin believes that many of the PMC and their supporters will not take the oath and could, in the long run, remain a threat.
In an attempt to disband the PMC, the Russian President signed a decree, within two days of Prigozhin’s death, requiring all members of PMCs, paramilitary groups, volunteer and territorial defense battalions to swear allegiance to the military command and to the “constitutional order.”
Many feel that the death of Prigozhin by “non-judicial means,” when there were “legitimate grounds” to prosecute him, has weakened Putin in the eyes of many commentators. Gallyamov’s assessment is that an undermined, out-of-control Wagner threatens many of Russia’s overseas projects and sends out a signal that Putin’s priority remains “the preservation of power” not necessarily what is in Russia’s best interests.
Ignatov, from the ICG says: “Putin's problem is that his image has faded and has ceased to respond to Russia's demand for a strong and decisive leader who achieves goals quickly and with minimal cost and sacrifice. This happened [because of his] unsuccessful operation to seize Ukraine and the transition of the war to [its current] protracted stage.”
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