How Russian paramilitary groups are vying for Wagner's power

Experts say Russia's use of private military companies to advance its interests has 'exploded' in recent years

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was a regular critic of the Russian Defence Ministry during the war in Ukraine. AFP / Telegram / @concordgroup_official
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The presumed death of Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has given rise to questions about which groups could compete to fill the power vacuum.

Several militias are made up of experienced fighters but lack the high profile of the Wagner Group, which has risen to a level of international notoriety with its role in the Ukraine war.

Moscow’s use of private military companies “exploded” in the years leading up to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, said the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The Washington-based think tank said Ukraine provided the “first proving grounds for PMCs” beginning in 2014. Some companies were sent to work with local forces in Syria and Libya, where fighters gained further experience.

Over time, Russia expanded its use of PMCs to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and other regions, the CSIS said, with a vision to “undermine US influence and support Russia’s expanding geopolitical, military and economic interests”.

Here are some of the groups vying for more power in the wake Wagner's failed mutiny in June.

Rockets fired at Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Reuters


A private military and security company in direct competition with Wagner Group. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu is believed to have a heavy influence over Patriot.

The group’s operations are said to have increased since Wagner’s failed mutiny in June, with its reach spreading further across Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa.


A Russian far-right and purportedly neo-Nazi paramilitary group that operates within Wagner.

Rusich played a significant role in key battles at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It has experienced fighters within its ranks, some of whom were engaged in combat alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.


Formed in 2008 as a merger of several minor veteran groups with combat experience, Redut’s troops have played a role in Russia’s assault on Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

It is believed to contain a unit called the Don Brigade, which includes Cossack fighters who are linked to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly killed in plane crash

Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly killed in plane crash

Prigozhin out of the picture?

Wagner Group leader Mr Prigozhin, 62, and senior officers of his private military are presumed dead in a plane crash that is widely regarded as an assassination.

His apparent death comes only two months after the paramilitary group staged a failed mutiny that dented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority.

Russia's civil aviation agency said Mr Prigozhin and six lieutenants were on a business jet that crashed on Wednesday soon after taking off from Moscow, alongside a crew of three.

Rescuers quickly found all 10 bodies, it was reported.

Sources in Wagner were cited by Russian media in confirming Mr Prigozhin's death.

The BBC cited UK defence sources as saying Mr Prigozhin’s plane was “most likely” brought down by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB. The sources suggested the incident could strengthen two of Mr Prigozhin’s enemies – Mr Shoigu and Gen Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces.

US and other western officials had long expected Mr Putin to go after Mr Prigozhin, despite promising to drop charges in a deal that ended mutiny in late June.

US President Joe Biden said reports suggesting the Wagner chief was on board the doomed aircraft came as little surprise.

“I don’t know for a fact what happened but I’m not surprised,” Mr Biden said. “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.”

Wagner chief Prigozhin presumed dead in plane crash – in pictures

Updated: August 24, 2023, 9:57 AM