It shows that Putin stays in the tradition to punish the traitors: Prigozhin received the same treatment as Alexandr Litvinenko, poisoned by Novichok in London, or as any of Wagner’s own worriers, whose heads were smashed with sledgehammer on suspicions of treason. His murder was expected by many analysis since the failed march on Moscow in June. It has also proved wrong all other experts arguing that Prigozhin was forgiven because he had never planned to dethrone Putin and because Putin never gives up “his own”. The opposite is true: Prigozhin stated his goals clearly and publicly before the failed coup, and they were rightly understood by the Kremlin, weakening Putin, and have received a worthy response, in a typical show of “strength” by the Russian leader.
Elimination of Prigozhin also proves that albeit he was “socially close” to Putin, he is not and has never been part of the “elites”. Nevertheless, it sends a powerful signal to the Russian elites. Within the chapter of under-the-carpet dog fighting, Prigozhin’s death is a clear victory of Valery Gerassimov and Sergei Shoigu, and a blow to Prigozhin’s supporters and backers.
More important in this regard is the death on the same plane of Dmitry Utkin, who, unlike Yevgeniy Prigozhin, is considered one of the original founders of Wagner and who comes out of the Russian military intelligence forces GRU. His death may mark a departure from Kremlin’s solid tradition not to punish “their own”. The more interesting are the identities of the other passengers on the plane. The death of Prigozhin and Utkin will certainly constipate the atmosphere within the Russian elites. For if they have been eliminated, why would their higher-sitting bosses keep their positions? It also shows that the priorities of the Kremlin have shifted from foreign policy to internal affairs, which is good news for Ukraine and is bound to further impact Russia’s military performance in the war.
These two deaths also raise the question about the future of Wagner, which is most likely to be sucked into other Russian PMC’s and probably the army, weakening the group’s performance, military and political significance, and appeal.
Finally, elimination of at least two leaders of Russian most reputable para-military group has provoked speculations about possible reaction by the Russian population. Seeing how indifferent large masses of the Russians have turned out to be toward the war in general, and considering that Prigozhin ditched thousands of his supporters when he suddenly stopped his march, a popular or military uprising because of Prigozhin’s death seems most likely to be tamed to the margins of Telegram channels. But who knows? We are talking Russia in August…