Former NATO chief James Stavridis said the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin last week has only strengthened Russian President Vladimir Putin — after the mercenary group’s attempted rebellion against Putin earlier this year.
“It strengthens Putin, who was weakened by this rebellion,” Stavridis said Sunday in an interview with told radio talk show host John Catsimatidis on WABC 770 AM’s “Cats Roundtable.”
“Now, he gains a little bit of, if you’ll pardon the pun, a little bit of airspeed,” he continued. “Putin is now ready to return his full attention to Ukraine. That’s the bad news here.”
Prigozhin died in plane crash last week, after a flight he was taking from Moscow to St. Petersburg went down under mysterious circumstances. All 10 people on board, including the Wagner chief and his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin, were killed.
U.S. intelligence officials said an initial assessment concluded that the crash was caused by an intentional explosion. The Kremlin has denied allegations that it was behind the crash but said on Wednesday that it may have been caused by “deliberate wrongdoing.”
In the immediate wake of Prigozhin’s death, Stavridis said it remains unclear who is now running the Wagner Group.
“There is not a single point of leadership in the Wagner Group because they all blew up in the airplane alongside Prigozhin,” he said.
However, the former NATO chief suggested that a new leader would eventually be put in place, given the significance of the private military company to Putin.
“That’s a significant flow of income for Vladimir Putin and the coffers of the Kremlin,” Stavridis said. “It’s also significant geopolitical influence in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Prigozhin in July urged his mercenary group to oust Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and challenged Putin’s justification for the country’s ongoing war with Ukraine.
The Wagner leader, however, ultimately ordered his private army to stop its advance after reaching an agreement in which Russia would drop its charges against him and he would relocate his troops to Belarus.
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