Wagner boss probably fabricated report of Putin conspiring against him: ISW

  • A prominent think tank said Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, likely fabricated a press request related to an alleged plot involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Russian official seeking to undermine Wagner.
  • While the Wagner group has become an important force for Russia in the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin has been at odds with Russian military officials in public.
  • The possible fabrication by the Wagner boss could be another attempt on his part to further discredit Russian officials.

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said Thursday he received a press question about an alleged plot backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that is seeking to undermine his mercenary organization.

But the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes Prigozhin fabricated the question and the alleged plot. The think tank said Prigozhin likely did it to bolster his own reputation and to advance “the next evolution” of his “campaign against the Russian military establishment,” according to ISW.

Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who founded and finances the Wagner Group, has become a recognized figure in the war in Ukraine. In the last months of 2022, his troops would help Russia advance on the battlefield Prigozhin caused controversy for his alleged brutal tactics and recruitment of convicts from prisons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting at the Moscow Kremlin on March 17, 2023. In deployment Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin during an economic forum on June 17, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. According to a US think tank, Prigozhin fabricated a report about an alleged plot supported by Putin to undermine his mercenary organization.Photos by Mikhail Svetlov/MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

During Wagner’s ascent in Ukraine, Prigozhin also publicly aired his dirty laundry with Russian military officials, including his recent claim that he has been cut off from all Russian government communication channels over his calls for more ammunition.

Prigozhin was once said to be a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, the ISW wrote earlier this year that a rift had developed between the two due to Prigozhin’s frequent criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry.

The ISW has also previously written about possible attempts by the Kremlin to weaken Prigozhin’s power. According to Thursday’s review, Prigozhin’s report on the alleged plot is an attempt on his part to counter such attempts.

On Thursday, the Telegram channel for Prigozhin’s press service published a claimed request for comment from the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The paper’s alleged request asked whether Prigozhin was aware of alleged discussions between Putin and Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev about the Wagner group.

The alleged press release stated that Patrushev had told Putin that there would be “nothing left” of Prigozhin’s military group in “one and a half to two months”. The message went on to say that Prigozhin would use what was left of Wagner’s troops for an advance into “the territory of Russia to seize power in the regions bordering Ukraine with a possible advance inland”.

According to the alleged request, Patrushev informed Putin that he had been monitoring the Wagner group and Putin thanked him for his efforts to “neutralize Wagner in general and Yevgeny Prigozhin in particular”.

Prigozhin posted an audio clip in response to the alleged request. ISW reported that he said in the audio that he had not heard of the plot, but felt that Russian special services should make efforts to thwart any threats to Russia, including plot discussions that might spread across Telegram and other platforms.

In its review of the communications, ISW wrote that it had “observed no information indicating that the discussions had taken place, nor has ISW recorded any speculation about them in the Russian information space”.

Further, ISW said Nezivisimaya Gazeta made no mention of the press commentary on its website, and the think tank was unable to find evidence of the alleged press commentary existing anywhere other than on the Telegram channel for Prigozhin’s press office.

“The lack of outside confirmation on this subject suggests that Prigozhin concocted the alleged plot to further various intelligence operations on behalf of Wagner and his own reputation,” ISW wrote.

It added that the exchange attempted to portray Patrushev as plotting against Prigozhin with “a fabricated scenario” that Wagner characterized as a “direct threat to Russia domestically”.

After previous attempts by Prighozhin to discredit other Russian officials — notably Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — he is said to have set his sights on Patrushev as an opponent, the ISW wrote.

For its part, the Kremlin does not often comment on Prigozhin or the Wagner Group. When reporters asked him about the mercenary’s boss in October, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred to the mercenary leader as “just another Russian citizen” who makes “a big, viable contribution” to his country.

News week contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

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