Pavel Prigozhin, the son of former Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, has emerged as an alternative leader for the mercenary group to Andrey Troshev, former Wagner commander who now serves in the ministry of defense and is endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Washington-based think tank Institute of Study of War (ISW).
ISW reported that Putin has publicly extended his support to Troshev. On September 29, Putin publicly acknowledged discussions with Troshev regarding his involvement in the establishment of fresh volunteer units primarily tasked with combat missions in Ukraine. This move, however, triggered dissent within some elements of the Wagner Group, leading to the emergence of an alternative leader.
The think tank cited a well-known Telegram channel associated with the Wagner Group as announcing that Pavel Prigozhin, the 25-year-old son of Yevgeny Prigozhin, has assumed “command” of the Wagner Group. It was further reported that Pavel Prigozhin is in negotiations with Rosgvardia (the National Guard of Russia) about the potential re-engagement of the Wagner Group in combat operations in Ukraine.
Notably, the announcement indicated that Wagner fighters would not be required to enter into contracts with the Russian ministry of defense. Additionally, the Wagner Group intends to maintain its name, symbols, ideology, leadership structure, management, and established operating principles.
ISW referenced sources close to the matter suggesting that Pavel Prigozhin's leadership may not be entirely independent, as he is believed to be under the influence of Mikhail Vatanin, the head of the Wagner Security Service. This suggests a potential division within the Wagner Group, with some members rallying around the Prigozhin-linked leadership as an alternative to the Kremlin- and defense ministry-aligned leadership represented by Troshev.
Furthermore, ISW highlights reports that Rosgvardia Head Viktor Zolotov is considering the possibility of allowing elements of the Wagner Group to join Rosgvardia as a distinct Wagner unit. However, it remains unclear how this branch of the Wagner Group may operate alongside Rosgvardia.
“ISW previously assessed that disjointed Wagner Group elements were unlikely to pose a serious military threat to Ukraine without bringing the full suite of effectiveness Wagner had as a unitary organization under Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s and Dmitry Utkin’s consolidated leadership. This initial assessment will be invalidated if the Wagner Group reestablishes itself as a coherent and large formation under the Russian government with effective centralized leadership,” the think tank said in an assessment.