The fate of the Wagner Group is in the hands of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
The New York Times reported the Russian Defense Ministry was considering absorbing the group.
An ex-GRU officer told Insider the group's current quasi-independent arrangement wouldn't last long.
Kremlin officials are considering the fate of the Wagner Group and its soldiers after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary group's boss, died last week in a plane crash shrouded in suspicion.
The Russian Defense Ministry, which Prigozhin spoke out against in June over an allegation that a missile attack killed his fighters, is likely trying to restructure the mercenary group in its favor, Western intelligence officials told The New York Times.
Already, the Russian Defense Ministry has created private military companies that are recruiting Wagner staff, in hopes of taking over Wagner's presence in the Middle East and Africa, the Institute for the Study of War said.
A former Russian intelligence official told Insider that after Prigozhin used Wagner as a vehicle to challenge the Kremlin, the group would be transformed in a way to serve only Putin.
"The Wagner Group will disappear rather soon," Boris Volodarsky, a former captain in Russia's Spetsnaz GRU special forces and a fellow with the Royal Historical Society in London, told Insider.
"Serious people," he said, referring to Putin and his secret service, "do not play games."
As the Kremlin ponders whether to memorialize Prigozhin with a military funeral amid the Ukrainian counteroffensive, here are some of the ways that Russia's military leadership may handle the leaderless mercenary group.
The Russian Defense Ministry is mulling its options for Wagner
One option that the Kremlin has considered for reform is to force Wagner staff to report directly to the Defense Ministry or the GRU, Russia's intelligence agency, the Times reported.
As tensions mounted between Wagner and Putin this summer, the Kremlin mandated that Wagner recruits sign contracts with the Russian army — which Prigozhin resisted.
Volodarsky told Insider that the group's current format and partial independence, under the Wagner name, will soon become a thing of the past.
Last week, the Institute for the Study of War cited Russian reports as saying the Kremlin was no longer subsidizing Belarus for its hosting of Wagner fighters who set up camp there after Prigozhin's mutiny. That means the soldiers' paychecks have been cut as the Kremlin mulls its next move — leading some to resign.
The Kremlin is likely weighing whether to fold Wagner into its Defense Ministry fully or find a new Wagner figurehead who won't be critical of Putin, the Institute for the Study of War reported, with the latter option being less likely.
Western officials don't believe Wagner staff will be allowed to choose their next leader, the Times reported. But the Kremlin is unwilling to let the group completely filter out, given its military successes in Bakhmut, Ukraine, and abroad, the Times reported.
Over his years in command, Prigozhin and his forces became a key security ally for Mali and the Central African Republic's government, which, in turn, helped Putin drum up African support for Russia's agenda in the region and Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.
After months of Wagner troops battling Ukrainian troops on behalf of Russia, in June Prigozhin said Russia's Defense Ministry carried out a missile strike against Wagner positions at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, which he said killed a "huge amount" of mercenaries.
In his tirade, Prigozhin said the ministry "must be stopped" and the people responsible for the death of Wagner fighters must be punished. Moscow's security services responded by announcing a criminal case against Prigozhin, charging him with inciting an armed rebellion — a case that was later dropped.
Wagner fighters then captured the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, a central command for its war in Ukraine, and headed toward Moscow.
Days later, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered a peace deal in which Prigozhin called off the rebellion in exchange for immunity in Belarus.
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