Author: Nikoloz Chkhaidze
The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin marked significant changes in the Private Military Company (PMC) realm of Russia. Today, the Wagner Group has almost completely lost both its autonomy and its ability to act based on its own interests.
PMC Wagner, whose leadership would act in a rebellious manner and would not hesitate to challenge the Russian government, has been completely rebranded and reorganized into what is essentially a Russian-state-owned company, and, yet, its status remains ambiguous.
This article will address the growing ambiguity surrounding the Wagner Group’s current status domestically and worldwide, the role of the Russian government in the reorganization of the Russian PMC’s operations in Africa, the establishment of a new power structure, and PMC Redut as an emerging force in Russia’s conventional and unconventional warfare and as a potential replacement for the Wagner Group in Ukraine.
The Wagner Group’s Ambiguous Status
Putin has been looking for alternative instruments for the Kremlin’s hybrid and conventional warfare since Prigozhin’s failed mutiny. Several well-established and emerging PMCs are potentially set to replace Wagner as a more loyal tool of the Russian government, some of which are owned by the Ministry of Defense, some by the state, while others are owned by the Russian Orthodox Church or oligarchs close to the Kremlin. These PMCs are currently battling for influence as to who is a more reliable force for the Kremlin.
Despite Russia’s efforts to reorganize the formerly rebellious PMC Wagner, there remain figures that are staunch Prigozhin loyalists, who are opposed to such a rebranding and the complete absorption of the Wagner Group into the Ministry of Defense. Looking at the current state of PMCs in Russia, we can expect to see a more ruthless power struggle between the groups to come.
As such, and taking into account what happened to Prigozhin, and the subsequent efforts of the Kremlin to reorganize the Wagner Group, the issue of its de facto leadership remains in limbo. There have been claims that the group will be completely absorbed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, while Putin himself stated that he would want to see Andrei Troshev, a former senior Wagner commander, as the new leader of the Wagner Group. Figures such as Anton Yelizarov, one of Wagner Group’s commanders, could also be considered next in line to succeed Prigozhin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a staunch Prigozhin loyalist and zealot like Yelizarov would be accepted to head a loyal force to the Kremlin.
Reorganization of the PMC Power Structure in Africa
PMC Wagner has been replaced by PMC Redut in Syria, yet Wagner still holds immense, albeit temporary, influence in Africa and Ukraine. We say temporary, since the Kremlin is in the process of restructuring the whole system of Wagner’s operations in Africa, which could also have detrimental effects on the leadership and the very existence of the organization as a whole.
There is no doubt that Putin himself is involved in this reorganization. Deputy Minister of Defense, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, led a Russian delegation to several countries in Africa, where the Wagner Group was tasked with ensuring the security of these unstable nations. The Russian delegation visited Libya, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, and Mali.
Fundamentally, the new power structure includes Andrei Averyanov, a GRU major general and the commander of GRU Unit 29155, who will be supervising Wagner’s operations in Africa. Two PMCs will most likely take over Wagner’s operations in Africa, and by doing so, Putin hands over parts of Wagner’s activities to his closest inner circle associates, which include Konstantin Mirzayants, the head of PMC Redut, which is financed by Gennady Timchenko, a Russian oligarch close to Putin and a former KGB officer.
Other parts of Wagner’s operations in Africa, specifically in the Central African Republic, are to be taken over by the head of PMC Convoy, Konstantin Pikalov, who happens to be a veteran of the Wagner Group. This PMC is financed by a close Putin associate and oligarch, Arkady Rotenberg.
This scheme and new power structure will fundamentally eliminate Wagner’s influence in Africa and replace it with other, more loyal and controllable, PMCs. Nevertheless, problems remain on the ground, with many mercenaries dissatisfied with the current developments.
PMC Redut – A Potential Replacement for the Wagner Group in Ukraine
However, the above does not make Redut the most powerful Russian PMC at the moment, for a number of reasons, one of which is the fact that it is still an emerging PMC, and has yet to gain significant size and capabilities to become the most dominant PMC in Ukraine. Certainly, it has both the capacity and the will to do so, since its close affiliation with the Russian MOD and GRU opens up lots of opportunities for it to establish itself as the sole leader of PMCs in Russia.
The second reason is Wagner’s sheer size and return to Ukraine, with Wagner troops reportedly back on the frontlines in Bakhmut. Even though we are seeing that Wagner is slowly but surely being eliminated and sidelined by the Kremlin, it remains a significant threat to global security architecture.
Yet PMC Redut, unlike Wagner, recruits experienced soldiers and veterans, who can prove more useful in Putin’s war against Ukraine. PMC Redut also manages an operational unit recruiting scheme which is supported by the Russian Military Intelligence Agency (GRU). This recruiting scheme provides the opportunity for the Kremlin to look for alternative manpower by recruiting “volunteers”, including former Wagner fighters. This will help them avoid criticism by preventing unpopular mobilizations. Fundamentally, the endgame of PMC Redut would be the complete replacement of Wagner in Ukraine and the absorption of their operations.
Looking at Vladimir Putin’s recent efforts to completely absorb the Wagner Group into Russia’s conventional army, remove their global influence, and sideline them from the operations that the Russian government is conducting, there is no doubt that he will do his utmost to purge the remaining rebellious part of the Wagner Group, as he will not want to experience the same humiliation he did during PMC Wagner’s military mutiny.
In the meantime, the Wagner Group will be effectively driven out by Kremlin-loyalist PMCs in Africa, and their operations will be completely absorbed, leaving them with no role on the continent. PMC Redut has also replaced Wagner in Syria, and has established control over gas processing plants, leaving Wagner with no practical function other than to be forced to join other PMCs or become part of the Russian Ministry of Defense. This enables PMC Redut to become a replacement for the Wagner Group as a tool of Russia’s hybrid warfare, cementing itself as the most dominant PMC in Russia in terms of resources and capabilities.
Naturally, Vladimir Putin deems it necessary to demonstrate power and reestablish his legitimacy, as his authority has been undermined in the eyes of the Russian elite. This is why he no doubt sees a need to double down and reestablish his image as the “strongman that Russia so desperately needs”.