Wagner boss likely fabricated report about Putin plotting against him: ISW

  • A leading think tank said Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin likely made a press request about an alleged plot involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Russian official seeking to undermine Wagner.
  • As the Wagner Group became a major factor for Russia in the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin publicly disagreed with Russian military officials.
  • Wagner boss’ possible fabrication could be another attempt on his part to further discredit Russian officials.

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday he received a question from the press about an alleged plot backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that seeks 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 so to bolster his own reputation and to further “the next evolution” of his “campaign against the Russian military establishment”, according to the ISW.

Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who founded and finances the Wagner Group, has become a recognized figure in the war in Ukraine. In the final months of 2022, his forces would have helped Russia advance on the battlefield, while Prigozhin has drawn controversy for his alleged brutal tactics and recruitment of convicts in prisons.

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

During Wagner’s rise in Ukraine, Prigozhin also went public with his dirty laundry with Russian military officials, including his recent claim that he was cut off from all Russian government communication channels because of his calls for more ammunition.

Prigozhin has been 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 efforts by the Kremlin to weaken Prigozhin’s power. His Thursday assessment said Prigozhin’s message about the alleged plot was an attempt on his part to counter such efforts.

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

The alleged press message specified that Patrushev had told Putin that there would be “nothing left” of Prigozhin’s military group in “a month 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 on “the territory of Russia in order to seize power in the regions bordering Ukraine with a possible advance inland”. .

According to the alleged request, Patrushev informed Putin that he was monitoring the Wagner group and Putin thanked him for working 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 believed that Russian special services should work to thwart any threats against Russia, including such discussions of the conspiracy that could spread on Telegram and other platforms.

In its assessment of the communication, the ISW wrote that it had “observed no information suggesting that the discussions had taken place, and the ISW did not capture any speculation in the Russian information space at their subject”.

Additionally, ISW stated Nezivisimaïa Gazeta did not mention the press comment on its website, and the think tank could not find evidence of the alleged press comment existing anywhere other than on Prigozhin’s press service’s Telegram channel.

“The lack of external confirmation on this suggests that Prigozhin fabricated the alleged conspiracy to pursue several information operations in Wagner’s name and his own reputation,” ISW wrote.

He added that the exchange was intended to portray Patrushev as conspiring against Prigozhin with “a made-up script” that characterized Wagner as a “direct threat to Russia domestically.”

After Prighozhin’s past efforts to discredit other Russian officials, including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, he may have set his sights on Patrushev as an adversary, the ISW wrote.

For its part, the Kremlin does not often comment on Prigozhin or the Wagner group. Asked by reporters about the mercenary boss in October, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the mercenary leader “just a Russian citizen” who “makes a significant and feasible contribution” to his country.

Newsweek contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.


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