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Shadowy figures named as most likely to fill Prigozhin’s boots

3 min read

A former MI6 officer has named two men mostly likely to fill the power vacuum left at the top of the Wagner Group after the death of its outspoken leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

A photograph taken in 2016 shows Vladimir Putin flanked by Andrei Troshev (to the left) and Alexander Kuznetsov (to his right), both of whom have been named by former MI6 officer Chris Steele who said they have played a “significant role” in Wagner operations in Ukraine, as well as in Africa and Syria.

On the far right of the photo stands the tall bald menacing figure of Dmitry Utkin, the man alleged to have founded Wagner and who it is reported also died alongside Prigozhin in a plane crash on Wednesday.

Prigozhin is believed to have been killed when a jet he was listed as a passenger on plummeted to earth and exploded into flames on Wednesday.

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The Embraer-135 (EBM-135BJ) was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg when it went down with seven passengers and three crew, according to Russia’s Rosaviatsia aviation authority. According to the BBC, local residents reported hearing two bangs before the plane went down.

The deaths of Prigozhin and Utkin throw up questions of who will take over the shadowy private military company (PMC).

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, previously told that Wagner were “Putin’s war dogs” running a “network in the shadows” that was directly funding the war in Ukraine through stripping gold, oil and other resources from Africa and the Middle East.

And speaking last night on BBC Newsnight, Chris Steele, MI6 intelligence officer from 1987 to 2009, told the programme two men could take over from Prigozhin.

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Kirsty Wark asked Mr Steele what also the death of the alleged founder of Wagner, Dimitry Utkin, meant for the leadership of the organisation.

Mr Steele said: “It’s obviously a significant blow, not least because Utkin was effectively the founder of Wagner, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t other senior Wagner commanders who have strong reputations and so on.

“There are two in particular, that we’ve come across in our reporting, one is a guy called Troshev (Andrei) and there’s another guy called Alexander Kuznetsov, both of whom have played a significant role in particular, both in Ukraine, but also in some of the Wagner operations in Africa and Syria.

Mr Steele added if the plane had come down because of foul play, it might not have been ordered by Putin directly.

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