Russian officials have confirmed the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, after genetic analysis of bodies found in plane crash.
Prigozhin led a short-lived armed rebellion against Russia’s military leadership in June. It was seen as the biggest challenge ever to President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he came to power.
What is Wagner Group ?
- Prigozhin said he founded Wagner in 2014. Although mercenary forces are illegal in Russia, Wagner registered as a "private military company" in 2022.
- Prigozhin was a wealthy businessman and convicted criminal, known as "Putin's chef" because he provided catering for the Kremlin.
- Wagner's first field commander was Dmitry Utkin, a former officer in Russia's special forces. He confirmed recently that the group was named after his radio call sign.
- Most Wagner mercenaries initially came from Russia's elite regiments and special forces, and the group was thought to be about 5,000 strong.
- However, in 2022, Prigozhin recruited prisoners from Russian jails to fight for Wagner in Ukraine, in exchange for pardons. In June, he said there were 25,000 Wagner fighters.
- The group has also been operating in Syria, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Libya.
Why did the Wagner Group stand against Russia?
- Wagner troops were heavily involved in the fighting for Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine, which they captured for Russia in May 2023.
- During the battle, Prigozhin repeatedly criticised the Russia's army chief, Valery Gerasimov, and its minister of defence, Sergei Shoigu, for under-supplying Wagner's troops, many of whom were injured.
- In June 2023, some 5,000 Wagner fighters staged a mutiny. They occupied the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow, with the stated aim of ousting Gerasimov and Shoigu.
- Prigozhin halted the advance after making a deal with Russian President Putin, which was negotiated by Belarus' leader Alexander Lukashenko.
- Putin said Wagner's fighters could either join the regular Russian army or go to Belarus with Prigozhin.