‘The Wagner Group is essentially OVER’: Pentagon says warlord Prigozhin’s death means the end for the mercenaries after leaders told them to find new jobs in Russia

The Pentagon said Thursday that the Wagner Group was effectively finished as a fighting force after the death of its leader in a plane crash last week.

Tens of thousands of its mercenaries had made up the most lethal part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine but this week its fighters were told to find new jobs.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the crash last week that killed Yevgeny Prigozhin two months after he led a mutiny against the rule of President Vladimir Putin.

‘The Wagner Group is essentially over,’ Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Pentagon briefing when he was asked about arms deals between Wagner and North Korea.

‘The broader issue here is the Russian government which Wagner was working for, in support of operations in Ukraine. And at one point in time Wagner group were the most effective combat forces Russia had on the ground in Ukraine, he said

‘And they’ve essentially been removed from the battlefield as anything even remotely being significant in terms of combat capability.’

Members of Wagner Group sit on the sidewalk as they patrol the center of Rostov-on-Don, in June, during their mutiny. On Thursday, the Pentagon declared the outfit ‘essentially over’

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder gave his assessment during a Pentagon briefing

The co-founder of Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash last week

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder gave his assessment during a Pentagon briefing, a week after the co-founder of Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash

His assessment is backed by an audio message that urged mercenaries to find new jobs as they were not being allowed to fight in Ukraine.

The independent outlet iStories said it had authenticated the clip, which featured a Wagner leader saying that despite having ‘tens of thousands of trained fighters’ ready to wage war, ‘they’re not letting us in the [war against Ukraine]’ due to ‘well-known circumstances.’

It said to look for other opportunities to make money. 

It marks a remarkable turnaround for the network. Only a month ago, a British parliamentary report said it remained a serious security threat to the West and should be designated a terrorist outfit.

It said its operations could be mapped to at least seven countries (Ukraine; Syria; the Central African Republic; Sudan; Libya; Mozambique; and Mali) and likely had operated in 10 more since its founding in 2014.

It shot to fame during the past year with its role in Ukraine.

In December 2022, the White House said it had 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, comprising 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

But in the weeks since Prigozhin’s aborted march on Moscow, there have been multiple reports of other security agencies working to absorb its functions.

Ryder made his assessment soon after the co-founder and military commander of the Russian mercenary group Wagner was buried near Moscow. He died in the same unexplained plane crash that killed his boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Members of Wagner group picture looking down from a military vehicle with a sign reading 'Brother' in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia in June where they took over army headquarters

Members of Wagner group picture looking down from a military vehicle with a sign reading ‘Brother’ in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia in June where they took over army headquarters

A portrait of PMC Wagner group's alleged co-founder and military commander Dmitry Utkin, killed in a plane crash in Tver region, sits on his grave at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchi, Moscow region

A portrait of PMC Wagner group’s alleged co-founder and military commander Dmitry Utkin, killed in a plane crash in Tver region, sits on his grave at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchi, Moscow region

A group of men arrives at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery for the funeral of Utkin

A group of men arrives at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery for the funeral of Utkin

Dmitry Utkin, 53, whose call-sign “Wagner” gave the private army its name, was buried in Mytishchi, on the outskirts of the capital, in a ceremony cordoned off by Russian military police, according to the popular online news channel Shot.

After the cemetery was opened several hours later, a Reuters journalist saw an engraved black headstone, a wooden Russian Orthodox cross and at least half a dozen large formal wreaths surrounding the grave.

Some, in red, yellow and black, bore Wagner’s official logo, while a flag placed nearby bore a leering death’s head symbol that its fighters have also used.

The “Caution, news” Telegram channel said police and members of the Rosgvardia national guard had come to pay their respects, along with a busload of members of the far-right Rusich militia affiliated with Wagner.

Prigozhin had been buried on Tuesday in a quiet family ceremony in his hometown of St Petersburg that contrasted starkly with his loud and often foul-mouthed presence on social media.

Before helping to found Wagner as Prigozhin’s shadowy right-hand man, Utkin was a special forces lieutenant colonel in the GRU military intelligence service.

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