The ‘surprising’ mistake that marked the downfall of Wagner and cronies

Wagner Group mercenary cries at shrine for Yevgeny Prigozhin

The mercenary Wagner Group may have lost three of its most prominent members if it is confirmed leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder Dmitry Utkin and logistics chief Valeriy Chekalov died in a plane crash on Wednesday evening (August 23).

The Wagner chiefs’ decision to travel together was described as surprising by one former member of their troops, Marat Gabadullin, as it went against the common security protocol normally advising against country leaders, heirs to the thrones or company chiefs sharing the same aircraft.

Mr Gabadullin, who is now an author and speaks about his time in the ruthless paramilitary group, told Sky News: “This surprised me, why they did not follow a certain security protocol, why two top people were flying together. Yes, I was surprised.”

Indeed, the decision by the Wagner leadership to travel on the same plane may prove final for the group.

As there isn’t an apparent successor for Mr Prigozhin and his two allies, all presumed dead, Wagner is facing a dilemma about its future and survival.

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Questions about who would take over Mr Prigozhin started emerging as soon as on Wednesday night, hours following the first reports of the crash.

The well-connected Russian Telegram channel VChK-OGPU commented: “Wagner has been decapitated.”

Wojciech Lorenz, head of the International Security Program of the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, made a similar comment about the mercenary troops being left headless.

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Speculating about their future, he then added: “It will limit its usefulness as a tool of psychological operations against Poland from Belarus.

“But Russia will still need private military companies to act mainly in Africa, so Wagner Group, even if rebranded as other groups, will remain active threatening Western interests and security.”

Following the attempted coup launched in late June by Wagner against the Russian military leadership, Mr Prigozhin agreed to go into exile in Belarus, and his troops followed him as part of a deal struck with the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko which sees them training the local military.

Following the paramilitary group’s arrival in Poland, Warsaw became alarmed at reports of possible incursions into its territory and deployed 10,000 more troops on the border after it was claimed two Belarusian helicopters had breached its air space.

The circumstances of the plane crash, which happened north of Moscow in the Tver region, are still being investigated by the Russian civil aviation agency.

While the deaths of Mr Prigozhin, Mr Utkin and Mr Chekalov haven’t yet been officially announced, Mr Gabadullin said: “As of now, the information is that he has died. My sources also confirm this information.”

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