According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly ordered his close confidant, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, to organize the assassination of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group private military contractor. The Kremlin has strongly denied the claims, dismissing the report as “pulp fiction.”
Background on Prigozhin and Wagner Group’s Rising Influence
Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch who is believed to be the financier of the Wagner Group, a private military organization that has played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 61-year-old Prigozhin has increasingly been acting as a public figurehead for Wagner, highlighting their battlefield exploits on social media and criticizing the Russian military leadership for failures during the war. This raised his profile and political influence.
Some experts believe Prigozhin, a former hot dog stand owner who earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative catering contracts, was becoming too powerful in his own right thanks to Wagner’s successes on the battlefield.
There has been speculation that Prigozhin’s growing clout could pose a political threat to Putin if Wagner fighters returned to Russia as battle-hardened war heroes.
|President of Russia
|Secretary of Russia’s Security Council and close Putin confidant
|Head of Wagner Group military contractor
Assassination Plot Allegations
The Wall Street Journal article, citing unnamed Russian and Western officials, claims that Patrushev organized an assassination plot to kill Prigozhin by sabotaging his aircraft to crash.
“On Putin’s direct order, his closest siloviki [strongmen] organized the assassination of Prigozhin,” the Western security official said. “It was meant to appear as a plane crash.”
The report says Wagner fighters got wind of the plot and told Prigozhin, who then stalled plans for an upcoming trip to avoid getting on any plane.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said American intelligence agencies are working to corroborate the report’s accusations. Other Western officials told the Journal they believe the account is credible.
The Kremlin dismissed the claims through spokesman Dmitry Peskov:
“It’s more like pulp fiction than high-quality reporting,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “I recommend you pay less attention to newspaper hoaxes.”
Peskov said Plane crashes “happen periodically, unfortunately.”
Implications of Infighting Among Putin’s Inner Circle
If true, the alleged assassination plot would signal major political infighting and distrust among Putin’s closest confidants as Russia suffers escalating losses in its flailing invasion of Ukraine.
It would suggest Putin aims to curb the rising influence of figures like Prigozhin and the Wagner Group, whose battlefield performances have often outshone the regular Russian military.
There are also indications that friction may be developing between Putin and Patrushev, who has served as Secretary of Russia’s Security Council for over a decade and is seen by some Kremlin-watchers as a possible successor.
Bloomberg Opinion columnist Leonid Bershidsky speculated whether Patrushev could have leaked the assassination scheme to undermine Putin:
“It’s in Patrushev’s personal interest to let it be known that Putin doesn’t trust his closest allies and even plots to get rid of them.”
But Patrushev has long been one of Putin’s most trusted hardline allies, making it unlikely he would directly turn on the president.
What Happens Next?
It remains unclear how the reported falling-out between Putin and Prigozhin could impact Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.
If true, the assassination scheme could indicate Putin aims to exert more control over paramilitary forces like Wagner. But sidelining Prigozhin risks losing one of Russia’s most effective battlefield commanders.
There may be further political shakeups within other Russian elite power structures like the military and intelligence services if infighting continues to worsen. Rifts in Putin’s inner circle could present opportunities for potential successors to jockey for more influence.
But in the near term, most experts believe Putin remains firmly entrenched as Russia’s leader. Despite military losses, there are still no clear signs Putin’s 20-year grip on power is under imminent threat.
The veracity of assassination allegations also remains uncertain without further evidence. But the intrigue has provided a glimpse into the opacity and internal tensions of Putin’s inner sanctum as Russia faces continued Ukraine setbacks.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.