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Russian mercenary’s speech on Putin standoff sparks questions about his fate

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s speech explaining the rationale behind his attempted coup did little to clarify his future or that of his mercenary group, experts told Fox News Digital.

“In his remarks, Prigozhin confirms that his intention wasn’t to oust Putin but to force the Russian leader to support him in his feud with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu,” John Hardie, deputy director of the Russia Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital. “In particular, Prigozhin wanted Putin to reverse his support for the Ministry of Defense’s recent requirement that Wagner sign a contract with the MoD by July 1. Prigozhin apparently perceived this as a threat to Wagner’s autonomy and his control of Wagner.”

Hardie’s comments come after Prigozhin released a video statement Monday to explain his group’s brief uprising in Russia over the weekend, which saw the group take over Russian towns and military bases while threatening to continue a march on Moscow.

The apparent coup was halted after a reported deal was struck between Prigozhin and the Kremlin for the mercenary leader to go into exile in Belarus, putting an end to the uprising and leaving Prigozhin and his group of thousands of fighters with an uncertain future.


Prigozhin looks on from a street vehicle in Russia

Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group military company, looks out from a military vehicle on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. (AP Photo)

But Prigozhin laid out differing reasons for ending the strife in his speech, arguing that he was seeking to avoid any conflict that would lead to the deaths of Russians while attempting to demonstrate a point about the value of his company’s fighters.

Prigozhin gave no indication of where he was or what his future plans might be and did not confirm the details of any deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead only acknowledging that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had agreed to mediate negotiations between his group and the Kremlin.

Author and former DIA intelligence officer Rebekah Koffler told Fox News Digital that regardless of the future of PMC Wagner, Putin will need some sort of private military company to carry out operations where “plausible deniability is required.”

“Putin needs Wagner or a Wagner-like mercenary force,” Koffler said. “Even if there may have been a plan to disband, it would have been accompanied by another plan to stand up a different paramilitary squad.”


As for what could happen to Wagner specifically, Koffler said Prigozhin’s speech seemingly indicated that he may shop the group’s services to overseas bidders.

“There are many things that Prigozhin said in his statement, which highlighted the fact that Wagner fighters were highly competent, battle hardened and can do excellent work,” Koffler said. “Many dictators in African countries have Wagner do their dirty work, removing their opposition.”

Wagner Group

Members of the Wagner Group military company sit atop a tank in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. (AP)

While Wagner’s attempted mutiny may have been born out of differences between the group’s leader and those in power in Moscow, it also seemingly highlighted at least one similarity between Prigozhin and Putin, according to Jonathan Wachtel, a former spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and a Russia expert who covered the collapse of the Soviet Union when he was a journalist in Moscow.

Wachtel pointed to an attempted coup against then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 that resulted in Russian forces setting fire to the building of the Russian Parliament and causing several Russian casualties, something both Prigozhin and Putin hinted at wanting to avoid.


“Prigozhin makes it clear in his remarks that he decided [to] not follow through with Wagner’s advance on Moscow out of fear that it would lead to bloodshed. Putin mentioned in his address that he cannot tolerate the internecine violence that cost so many Russian lives during the country’s civil war between the Red Bolshevik and White armies at the beginning of the 20th century,” Wachtel told Fox News Digital. “Though Putin and Prigozhin have verbally attacked one another, one thing they seem to have in common is a desire not to see Russia collapse into civil war and Russian-on-Russian violence. What remains to be seen is what Putin will do with his top military brass, which has been at odds with Wagner.”

But according to Hardie, Prigozhin’s dramatic attempt to make a point was badly miscalculated.

“Prigozhin clearly miscalculated. First, he seemed to lack a coherent theory of victory. In other words, it doesn’t make sense how Wagner’s military actions in Russia would help him achieve his political aims,” Hardie said. “Second, he apparently failed to anticipate that staging an armed rebellion would make him an enemy of the state rather than gain him influence with Putin.”

Prigozhin speaks in video address

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, records video addresses in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP)


That miscalculation leaves both Prigozhin and his group with an uncertain future, with Koffler arguing that any comments made by the mercenary leader from this point on are likely part of an agenda.

“Prigozhin claims that the ‘trigger’ for his attempted rebellion against the Russian defense establishment was the plan to disband the Wagner Group – Prigozhin cannot be trusted any more than Putin,” Koffler said. “Nothing Prigozhin says can be trusted except when he says that he does work on behalf of Mother Russia. Mother Russia is now Putin.”

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