Exclusive: Vladimir Putin’s Failed Attempt to Replace Yevgeny Prigozhin as Leader of Wagner Fighters Exposes Weakness in Russian Regime

Exclusive: Putin Attempts to Reassert Control Over Wagner Mercenary Group After Failed Mutiny

In a recent interview with the Kommersant newspaper, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that he had sought to replace Yevgeny Prigozhin as the leader of Wagner’s fighters in Ukraine. Putin’s admission came as a surprise and showcased his ongoing negotiations with the Wagner mercenary group. The failed rebellion of Wagner last month exposed Putin’s inability to manage conflicts among various power players within his regime, according to analysts.

Belarusian state media recently aired footage purportedly showing Wagner instructors arriving in Belarus. They claimed that this development was part of an exile deal between Wagner and the Kremlin following the mutiny. During the meeting at the Kremlin, Putin offered Prigozhin the option for Wagner fighters to continue serving in Ukraine under the leadership of their battlefield commander, Andrey Trochev. However, Prigozhin rejected the proposal, stating that the fighters would not agree with the decision.

Experts believe that Putin’s decision to publicly reveal the failed negotiations and discredit Prigozhin is an attempt to win the loyalty of Wagner’s rank and file while driving a wedge between Prigozhin and his fighters. Putin also tried to cast doubts on the existence of Wagner, referencing Russian legislation that outlaws private military companies. This move underscores Putin’s ability to outlaw Wagner whenever he chooses, while still relying on the group for his own purposes.

The Kremlin has been using state-controlled television channels to broadcast reports on Prigozhin’s alleged business interests and claims of ineffectiveness and corruption. Embarrassing photographs of Prigozhin have also been leaked, contributing to his ridicule. In response to these tactics, Prigozhin and Wagner have been subjected to raids by authorities, resulting in the leaking of personal images, including one of Prigozhin sitting in his underwear in a field tent.

Belarusian state television recently reported that Wagner fighters had arrived at a military camp in the village of Asipovichi in Belarus. These mercenaries were filmed training local defense forces, marking the first sighting of Wagner fighters in Belarus since the rebellion. According to the Belarusian defense ministry, Wagner fighters were serving as instructors in a variety of military disciplines.

While the US claims that Wagner has mostly been sidelined in Ukraine, with a drawdown in May after crucial fighting for the city of Bakhmut, the majority of Wagner fighters have remained in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Prigozhin’s lucrative operations in Africa and contracts to supply Russian military bases abroad remain highly valuable. The Kremlin may seek to assert control over these interests by separating Prigozhin from Wagner, ultimately using the group in their war in Ukraine.

The delicate negotiations between Putin and Prigozhin highlight their interdependency. Both players have a vested interest in making peace to leverage the Wagner troops effectively. Prigozhin’s position is particularly vulnerable without the support of the president, while Putin views the conflict in Ukraine as a higher goal. As the situation unfolds, it becomes clear that managing the conflicts and power dynamics within Putin’s regime remains a challenging endeavor.