By Snejana Farberov
Mutinous Wagner mercenary group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely either dead or jailed, and his much-publicized meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after his botched rebellion was probably faked, according to a former senior US military leader.
Retired Gen. Robert Abrams, an ABC News contributor who previously served as the commander of US Forces Korea, shared his thoughts on Prigozhin’s uncertain fate in the aftermath of the Wagner Group’s short-lived armed insurrection last month.
“My personal assessment is that I doubt we’ll see Prigozhin ever again publicly,” Abramstold ABC News. “I think he’ll either be put in hiding, or sent to prison, or dealt with some other way, but I doubt we’ll ever see him again.”
Asked if he thought the billionaire businessman was alive after posing the most significant challenge to Putin’s regime since he came to power in 1999, Abrams said: “I personally don’t think he is, and if he is, he’s in a prison somewhere.”
The retired four-star general also raised doubts about a meeting that, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin held with Prigozhin and all his senior Wagner commanders on June 29, five days after the aborted mutiny.
“I’d be surprised if we actually see proof of life that Putin met with Prigozhin, and I think it’s highly staged,” Abrams said.
Peskov told reporters Monday that Putin had invited 35 people to the meeting, among them Prigozhin, and that it had lasted three hours.
Other senior members of Putin’s administration, including the head of the national guard, Viktor Zolotov, and SVR Foreign Intelligence boss Sergei Naryshkin were also said to be present, reported the French newspaper Liberation.
Peskov said Putin gave his “assessment” of the Wagner Group’s actions during the war in Ukraine, in which they led the bloody fight to capture the city of Bakhmut, and also “of the events of June 24” — referring to the day of the mutiny.
Putin also “listened to the explanations of the commanders and offered them options for further employment and further use in combat,” according to the Kremlin spokesman.
“The commanders themselves presented their version of what happened. They stressed that they are staunch supporters and soldiers of the head of state and the commander-in-chief, and also said that they are ready to continue to fight for their homeland,” Peskov said. “That is all we can say about this meeting.”
Prigozhin, 62, who had been publicly feuding with Russia’s top military brass, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, over their handling of the war in Ukraine, led his fighters in a rebellion that saw them seize control of the city of Rostov-on-Don.
Prigozhin then ordered his forces to march toward Moscow, but he abruptly changed his mind after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko hastily brokered a truce between the mercenary chief and the Kremlin.
Under the agreement, Prigozhin would be spared charges of treason if he agreed to go into exile in Belarus, but Lukashenko said last week that Prigozhin was back in Russia.
One of Prigozhin’s private jets has made multiple trips between Belarus and Russia in the days since the uprising, according to flight tracking data.
He was reportedly seen in the Saint Petersburg office of the FSB last week, where he arrived to collect his arsenal of weapons that had been confiscated during a raid on his mansion.
Around the same time, Prigozhin also released an audio message, thanking those who supported the Wagner Group’s failed mutiny, which he said was “aimed at fighting traitors and mobilizing our society.”
Prigozhin’s current whereabouts and future plans remain unknown.
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said Prigozhin’s failed coup attempt put a target on the Russian’s back.
“I wouldn’t insure his life … Prigozhin clearly took a chance. If you’re going to take on the king, don’t do it with a Nerf bat. He did. It failed,” Pompeo said on WABC 770 AM radio’s “Cats Roundtable” show with host John Catsimatidis.