In a recent Kremlin meeting aired on Russian television, President Vladimir Putin issued directives to a senior leader of the notorious Wagner Group, tasking him with overseeing “volunteer units” engaged in combat operations in Ukraine and ensuring their effective performance. This significant development comes in the wake of the mysterious plane crash on August 23, which claimed the life of Wagner’s former leader, warlord Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
The appointed successor to lead Wagner is retired Colonel Andrei Troshev, known by his call sign “Sedoi” (Gray Hair). Troshev is a highly decorated military veteran with a storied history, having served in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria. President Putin, in an unprecedented move, placed Troshev under the chain of command of the Ministry of Defense, thereby bringing the private military contractor under direct state control.
Wagner, whose existence Putin denied as recently as July, has now become an integral component of Putin’s “power vertical,” reflecting his centralized, authoritarian style of governance. Under this new configuration, the group will operate as a proxy force for the Russian government while providing the Kremlin with plausible deniability in sensitive operations.
Andrei Troshev had been leading Wagner forces in Ukraine for over a year before his official appointment, suggesting that Putin may have identified him as a potential successor to Prigozhin prior to the warlord’s demise. During an interview on July 13, Putin alluded to a meeting he held with 35 Wagner fighters on June 29, just days after a mutiny within the group. Putin offered the mutineers the option to serve under the leadership of the individual who had been their “direct” and “real commander” for the preceding 16 months. That individual was Troshev. However, Prigozhin, seated upfront and unaware of the fighters’ reactions, rejected the offer, likely sealing his fate.
Troshev, a man of the state or “gosudarstvennik,” shares Putin’s vision of maintaining direct control over various aspects of governance. He is a graduate of esteemed military institutions and has held top positions in internal security and counter-terrorism agencies. His unwavering allegiance to the Russian state is evidenced by his Hero of the Russian Federation title, awarded for his service in Syria against the Islamic State.
The restructuring of Wagner is not limited to Ukraine, as Putin seeks to expand its operations globally. In Africa, Dmitriy Sytyi, a 34-year-old Western-educated businessman, has emerged as the frontman for Wagner’s operations. Sytyi, a former associate of Prigozhin, manages a Russian cultural center in the Central African Republic (CAR). While ostensibly promoting Russian culture, this center serves as the hub for Wagner’s multibillion-dollar enterprise, involving the export of natural resources such as diamonds, gold, and lumber.
Sytyi’s extensive education and language skills make him a valuable asset, capable of building critical networks on behalf of the Russian state. Wagner mercenaries provide personal security for Sytyi, who survived an assassination attempt involving a mail bomb.
Africa holds strategic importance for Putin, who aims to diminish Western influence and expand Russia’s presence, particularly in resource-rich regions. Wagner, operating in Africa since 2014, has played a pivotal role in advancing Moscow’s interests across the continent. The group has engaged in destabilization operations, most notably in Niger, where France recently announced the withdrawal of its Ambassador and troops, ceding control to the new military junta supported by Wagner.
With the new leadership structure in place, Putin’s Wagner mercenaries will continue to operate worldwide, officially “not existing” while executing their missions on behalf of the Russian state.