Warlord with code name 'grey hair' tipped to be Russia's new mercenary boss

A retired colonel has been tipped to take over command of the infamous Wagner Group after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s presumed death.

It is a role few would want, after speculation Russian president Vladimir Putin could have orchestrated the fiery plane crash near Moscow that left no survivors.

Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov, two other key figures in the paramilitary group, were also killed when Wagner’s private jet plummeted from the sky on August 23, so a question mark remains over who will lead its murderous mercenaries.

Ruslan Trad, security analyst with the Atlantic Council, told Metro.co.uk that because Wagner is ‘profitable’ for Russia, it will continue to exist ‘in one form or another’.

He said: ‘Most likely, the money will be funneled through another oligarch, and the command will be taken by a veteran like Andrei Troshev.

‘In any case, Wagner will exist in one form or another as it is a profitable model, especially for the provision of resources with which Russia bypasses the sanctions.

‘Although Putin signed a decree that all paramilitary structures sign contracts with the official authorities, Wagner is unlikely to disappear.

‘We have enough historical examples of the Russians using proxy forces, even if it is against the laws of Russia.’

Wagner first emerged in Ukraine in 2014 before rearing its head in Syria when civil war erupted there one year later. The shadowy group was most recently credited with Russia’s victory in Bakhmut this summer.

Patronage of the military machine has been on the rise over the last six years in Africa, most notably in the Central African Republic (CAR), Burkina Faso and Mali.

Having no one in charge – or even worse, a figure not cherrypicked and controlled by the Russian leader – will leave the Kremlin vulnerable to others with dangerous ambitions for leadership like Prigozhin.

Troshev seems to fit this bill.

After Prigozhin’s abortive mutiny in June, Putin announced that he wanted Troshev to replace him as head of the Wagner Group.

He is known as one of the founders of Wagner, and for his military career, taking part in the wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and the intervention in Syria.

Pro-Wagner Telegram channels have repeatedly referred to the highly-decorated veteran as one of the group’s most senior commanders.

According to European Union sanctions documents, he uses the war pseudonym ‘Sedoi’, meaning ‘grey-haired’.

Troshev has been described as the ‘executive director’ in a 2021 document, which also says he was a founding member of the group.

‘He is a very good commander and probably on good terms with Putin,’ Mr Trad said.

‘Whether this will become real and whether Troshev will be accepted by the other commanders is a separate issue.

‘The fact that Dmitry Utkin was close to him also speaks for his image. Troshev has also been under Western sanctions since 2021.

‘His participation in Wagner is most obvious in Syria, where he was involved in the operations in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zur.’

The Kremlin is currently considering options on bringing Wagner under its direct control.

Whether an assassination or not, Prigozhin’s death is shifting power structures in Russia.

Mr Trad stressed that the plane crash will send a message to those who may have taken inspiration from the warlord’s insurrection attempt.

He added: ‘It will also create fear among the disaffected in the military – fear that could lead to more plots than before.

‘Putin feels weak and the fate of Prigozhin shows this.’

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