Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin “likely underestimated” the offense he caused to Russian President Vladimir Putin before his “assassination” this week, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Prigozhin was reportedly killed alongside some of his top Wagner Group lieutenants when his private jet crashed in Russia’s Tver region on Wednesday. The fatal crash happened exactly two months after the paramilitary leader led a short-lived mutiny against the Russian military.
The rebellion ended after one day, following a peace deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Wagner forces were exiled to Belarus in the aftermath of what some called Putin’s “humiliation.” However, Prigozhin returned to Russia shortly after his supposed exile.
A report published Thursday by ISW, a U.S.-based think tank, claims that it is “almost certain” that Putin orchestrated Prighozin’s death in retaliation for rebelling about the Russian military in June. The report cites a Russian “insider” who claims that “Prigozhin was confident that Putin would forgive him” for the mutiny.
“Prigozhin likely underestimated how seriously his rebellion had personally humiliated Putin,” the report states. “Prigozhin had also apparently overestimated the value of his own loyalty to Putin. Putin places significant value on loyalty and has frequently rewarded loyal Russian officials and military commanders even when they have failed.”
“Prigozhin’s rebellion was an act of significant insubordination despite his claim that he rebelled out of loyalty to Russia,” it continues. “Putin’s statement was therefore a warning to those currently loyal to Putin that some mistakes are too serious for loyalty to overcome.”
Newsweek reached out for comment to the Russian Ministry of Defense via email on Thursday night.
An Associated Press (AP) report published on Thursday claims that a preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment has determined that Prigozhin’s jet crashed due to an intentional explosion.
Pentagon spokesperson Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said during a press briefing on Thursday that reports of the crash being caused by a surface-to-air missile were “inaccurate,” leaving the possibility that some other form of sabotage like a bomb may have brought down the plane.
One intelligence official told AP that Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics” meant that it was “very likely” Prigozhin was assassinated.
An ISW report published on August 9 suggested that the post-mutiny deal between Putin and Prigozhin had “collapsed,” while noting that Putin was likely “still concerned about the threat that Prigozhin poses to his long-term goals.”
Prigozhin appeared on Monday in his first confirmed video released after the rebellion, teasing the Wagner Group’s new “mission” in Africa.
Some remaining Wagner Group members have vowed to take “revenge” on Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu following the suspected assassination of their leader.