WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Friday requiring all mercenaries to swear allegiance to Russia, a revelation that comes on the heels of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s reported death.
The fate of the Wagner Group – a private Russian military company with ties to conflicts in Africa, Syria and Ukraine – has been uncertain since a short-lived revolt in June.
Prigozhin marched his Wagner mercenaries on Moscow following months of frustrations stemming from a lack of Russian battlefield successes in Ukraine. The rebellion was quietly called off between Putin and his once-personal-chef Prigozhin and the ex-Kremlin confidant was exiled to Belarus.
On Thursday, Putin issued quick, impersonal remarks to the families involved in the plane crash that is believed to have killed Prigozhin and top Wagner officers. The doomed flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg has been described as Putin’s “public execution” of Prigozhin.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the downing of the plane.
Putin said an investigation into what happened to the private jet was already underway.
Russian investigators said the identification of the 10 individuals found at the crash site was being carried out. Additionally, the flight recorders from the aircraft were retrieved and undergoing forensic testing.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said that he made no security guarantees to Prigozhin following the Wagner mutiny in Russia but added that Putin was not behind the plane crash.
“I cannot imagine that Putin did it, that Putin is to blame for this,” Lukashenko said.
The Pentagon said Thursday that initial intelligence indicates that the Wagner chief died in the Wednesday plane crash.
“It’s likely Prigozhin was killed and we’re continuing to assess the situation,” said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder during a Pentagon briefing.
“The press reporting stating that there was some type of surface-to-air missile; we assess that information to be inaccurate,” Ryder said, declining to elaborate further.
CNBC and NBC News have not confirmed Prigozhin’s death.