Wagner Group warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin is believed to be “using body doubles” to mask his movements after he reportedly left Belarus to return to Russia.
Pentagon officials claim the missing mercenary leader has defied his exile and returned to Russia – possibly St Petersburg or Moscow – using a series of fakes.
After Wagner’s rebellion against the Kremlin, Prigozhin was lying low in Belarus. But on Thursday, President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he was no longer in the nation.
A US military source told The New York Times, the oligarch had been spending most of his time back in Russia rather than Belarus. They said Vladimir Putin’s administration did not have the “ability” or “desire” to follow him.
President Alexander Lukashenko
A business jet linked to Prigozhin is reported to have left St Petersburg for Moscow on Wednesday. Flight tracking data showed it heading for southern Russia on Thursday.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, tweeted recently: “It’s great that Russian authorities don’t really care about a person who launched an armed mutiny against them.
“So where is he exactly? With the money, weapons and Wagner mercenaries?”
According to The Sun, Prigozhin’s decision to ignore his exile is a “direct provocation” against Putin. It comes as a Kremlin purge saw Sergey Surovikin vanish amid speculation he knew about Prigozhin’s rebellion plan.
Pigozhin’s decision to flagrantly disregard his exile deal is another direct provocation against a paranoid Putin who seems to be engaged in a Kremlin purge.
Sergey Surovikin – aka “General Armageddon” – vanished two weeks ago after speculation he had advance knowledge of the Wagner chief’s plans.
Meanwhile, Putin may be engaged in a less obvious campaign to destroy Prigozhin, starting with his image.
The latest analysis from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) stated that Prigozhin’s ability to be the master of his own fate suggests two things.
That he is either “protected by some security guarantees and/or that the Kremlin continues to prioritize undermining his reputation in Russia over targeting Prigozhin physically or legally.”
Either way, ISW stated: “Wagner is not fulfilling his end of the deal”.
This week, security forces ransacked Prigozhin’s swanky mansion in St. Petersburg and released extraordinary pictures of a house of opulence and horrors.
They poked fun at his bars of gold, private arsenal of weapons, giant sledgehammer and even a framed photo of severed heads was among the loot.
The FSB raid also seized his bizarre cupboard full of wigs, beards and pictures of him in various get ups – hinting at a man clearly experienced in disguise.
Putin’s former lap dog has not been seen since he was shipped off to Belarus to begin his exile following his aborted “coup” on June 23 waged against Russia’s military leaders.
The steaming rebellion was blown out after Prigozhin struck a bitter, but unclear deal with Putin putting an end to an astonishing 36-hours that saw Wagner’s forces reach within 125 miles of the capital.
Since then, he was widely assumed to have been hunkered down in Belarus and avoiding trouble.
His plane had been tracked landing in the neighboring state and Lukashenko himself confirmed he had arrived.
Whether it was true or not, Prigozhin – for once – stayed remarkably silent and hidden from sight.
That was until he broke his week-long silence on Monday, when he came back fighting to thank his supporters and defend his mutinous actions.
In his first statement since being shipped to Belarus, Prigozhin defended his violent mutiny as a “march to justice”.
He boldly claimed that his mission was to “fight the traitors and mobilize society” and called on the Russian public to support his ruthless mercenary army.
He brazenly added: “In the near future, I am sure that you will see our next victories at the front.”
However, part of Prigozhin’s deal with Putin forced Wagner recruits to choose between following him to Belarus, signing contacts with the Russian defense ministry or going home to their families.
While Wagner posters across Russia were being torn down, and their HQ gutted – the paid killer group were still actively seeking recruits using advertisements on Telegram this week.
The recruitment push undermines the paid-killer group’s truce with the Kremlin.
Belarus has offered Wagner the use of a Belarusian “abandoned” military base, and satellite images showed temporary structures being quickly built.
However on Thursday, Lukashenko said that Wager forces remained in their “permanent camps” in eastern Ukraine that they retreated to after the failed rebellion.
Earlier this week, Prigozhin’s St Petersburg mansion was raided by Russian police. Inside they found gold bars, a private arsenal of weapons, and even pictures showing him in various disguises.
Prigozhin himself has not been seen since his aborted “coup” on June 23. After a 36 hour advance saw him reach within 125 miles of Moscow with the Wagner Group, he struck a deal with Putin to stop the offensive.
Having stayed quiet for a while, he broke his silence on Monday claiming the move was a “march to justice”. After the operation, Wagner Group were given the chance to join Russian forces or follow Prigozhin to Belarus.
And while Lukashenko had offered the group use of its abandoned military bases, he claimed on Thursday it was still using Ukraine as its home.