The Wagner Group will take revenge for the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, masked men have declared in a chilling new video.
The head of the mercenary group is thought to have been killed after his jet crashed in the Tver region of Russia.
Foul play is heavily suspected with reports suggesting the FSB – a successor to the old Soviet KGB – was behind what could have been a shoot-down.
It is thought Putin is trying to wind up the organisation after it rebelled against his rule in June in a day-long coup.
In a new video, the masked men say: “There’s a lot of talk right now about what the Wagner Group will do. We can tell you one thing, we are getting started, get ready for us.”
Prigozhin’s death has not been confirmed but he was registered as flying aboard the plane along with another key Wagner boss, Dmitry Utkin, on Wednesday. At least five others were believed to be on board.
Previously known as “Putin’s chef” while he was the go-to caterer for the Russian leader, a massive rift developed between the president and Prigozhin during the war in Ukraine.
Prigozhin is believed to have been killed in a plane crash. Picture: Alamy
Three masked men, apparently from Wagner, suggest the mercenary group will retaliate in a social media video. Picture: Twitter
Wagner, which had enriched itself and Prigozhin via contracts in Syria and Africa, joined regular forces when the invasion launched last year.
They made sure to take the limelight in any operation they were involved in, most notably throwing their mercenaries – some recruited out of jail – into the Bakhmut meat grinder in a gruelling, months-long campaign to take the strategically unimportant town.
In the aftermath, they were targeted by the Russian military as Putin grew nervous about Prigozhin’s increasing popularity and his statements criticising the defence leadership during the war.
Wagner launched a rebellion, capturing a key headquarters in Rostov, while others marched on Moscow.
The plane came down in the Tver region. Picture: Alamy
Prigozhin is believed to have been killed in a crash. Picture: Alamy
Putin brokered a deal that would have apparently seen Prigozhin move to Belarus, Putin’s puppet state, but he continued to remain in Russia while keeping a low profile.
His ability to move around with relative freedom was a slap in the face to Putin who would have worried about looking weak.
The Institute for the Study of War said in an assessment: “Prigozhin was likely attempting to counter the Russian MoD’s [Ministry of Defence] and the Kremlin’s destruction of Wagner and Wagner’s future remains uncertain.
“Putin almost certainly ordered the Russian military command to shoot down Prigozhin’s plane.
“Putin’s almost certain order for the Russian MoD to shoot down Prigozhin’s plane is likely a public attempt to reassert his dominance and exact vengeance for the humiliation that the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion on June 24 caused Putin and the Russian MoD.”
Wagner still has a presence overseas, and it has long been viewed as another tool for the Kremlin to use overseas while appearing as an independent, private company.
It is unclear what will happen to its fighters now. Some are thought to have jumped ship to another PMC that is closer to the Russian MoD, Redut, while others were offered the chance to join the regular military.
Wagner is due to be designated a terrorist group by the UK.