Putin orders Wagner fighters to sign oath of allegiance to Russia

President Vladimir Putin has ordered Wagner mercenary fighters to sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state days after its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and some of his lieutenants were presumed to have died in a plane crash.

Under the new rules, which took immediate effect on Friday, all “persons entering volunteer formations, and other persons contributing to the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other troops, military formations and bodies and taking part in a special military operation must pledge allegiance to the country and military.”

The rules also required that they should take an oath that they will be “devoted to the Russian Federation, to courageously defend its independence and constitutional order.”

The wording of the oath includes a line in which those who swear to it promise to strictly follow the orders of commanders and senior leaders, and is described in the decree as a step to forge the spiritual and moral foundations of the defense of Russia. 

Putin’s introduction of a mandatory oath for employees of Wagner and other private military contractors was a clear move to bring such groups under tighter state control.

Earlier this year, the Russian Defense Ministry gave mercenary groups until July 1 to sign army contracts, a move that angered Prigozhin ahead of his failed uprising at the end of June.

Since then Wagner fighters who did not take part in the mutiny have been transferred into the regular Russian army.

Putin signed the decree shortly after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media that Western suggestions that Prigozhin, the billionaire former food supplier to the Kremlin turned mercenary group mogul, had been killed on government orders were an “absolute lie.”

The Russian leader acknowledged Prigozhin’s death Thursday, calling him a “talented businessman” who had “dealt with oil, gas, precious metals and gems.” He added that he was “a man with a complicated fate, who has made many serious mistakes in his life.”

Russia’s aviation authority has said that Prigozhin was on board a private jet that crashed Wednesday evening northwest of Moscow in which no one survived exactly two months after he led a failed mutiny against army chiefs.

Russian investigators say flight recorders recovered from likely Prigozhin plane crash

But there has been no official confirmation that Prigozhin’s body was found or identified, and it remains unknown what brought the plane down.

The U.S. Pentagon has said its own initial assessment was that Prigozhin was killed and British military intelligence said on Friday there was not yet definitive proof that Prigozhin had been on board but that it was “highly likely” he was dead.

Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin — a shadowy figure with neo-Nazi tattoos known as the mercenary chief’s right-hand man — and logistics chief Valery Chekalov were on board the flight with Prigozhin, according to Russian authorities.   

The death of the three top figures in the Wagner command leaves a power vacuum in the mercenary group. The private force previously made its money by exchanging military support for cash and precious metals around the world, exploiting gold and diamond mines in places like the Central African Republic — where Russia is hoping to increase its influence.


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