This report describes the key events that significantly impacted Russia’s political, economic and social processes.
Based on the results of the past week, the following trends can be summarised:
- One of the most critical events for Russia last week was the BRICS summit, held in South Africa on August 22-24. Important decisions on the expansion of the organisation, the implementation of a common policy on de-dollarisation and sanctions pressure have demonstrated that the ambitions of the BRICS members should not be underestimated. The organisation’s weight in the geopolitical arena can now be considered very stable. At the same time, Russia’s role in BRICS remains secondary.
- Serious reshuffles in top political positions may take place in Russia soon. In particular, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, can also receive the ministerial portfolio. At the same time, the head of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, may get a higher position in Moscow. In any case, August became a time for demonstration of their abilities for possible applicants for promotion, which they could demonstrate during the negotiation processes at the international level.
- Russia is increasingly demonstrating ambitions to create a separate centre of global influence with an eye on the Global South. Russian and Kazakhstani grain can block the volume of supplies that previously came from Ukraine. Russia also proposes to abandon pricing through the Chicago Grain Exchange, offering its rules of the game, which now seem more flexible and acceptable to all players. At the same time, Russia’s key partner in this matter, Turkie, fears it may become dependent on Moscow, so it would like to diversify risks. That is why she is lobbying to re-open the “Ukrainian” way. Soon, there will be a meeting between the leaders of Russia and Turkey, during which the fate of the “grain deal” will be decided.
This digest examines the following issues that were most relevant for Russia during 21–27 of August:
1. XV BRICS summit in South Africa (Russian aspect);
2. Putin’s meetings with the “heads” of the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions of Ukraine;
3. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane crash;
4. The mission of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, in Turkiye;
5. Budapest meeting on the “grain deal”;
6. Vladimir Putin’s refusal to participate in the G20 summit in New Delhi.
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- XV BRICS summit in South Africa (Russian aspect)
On August 22-24, Johannesburg hosted the XV BRICS Summit, chaired by the Republic of South Africa. During the summit itself, as well as during an informal meeting of the BRICS member leaders and invited participants, issues of the association’s activities were discussed, including the problems of its possible expansion, the global and regional agenda, as well as the prospects for further development of the BRICS partnership in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian and other fields.
As a result of the summit, the Johannesburg Declaration was signed, which lists all previously reached agreements. In 2024, the chairmanship of the BRICS will pass to Russia. At the same time, this year, the Russian delegation to South Africa was led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as Putin could not attend the event due to the host’s lack of security guarantees. On March 17, the Order of the International Criminal Court (South Africa ratified the Rome Statute, based on which the ICC operates) was issued for the arrest of Putin, after which the physical presence of the Russian president at the BRICS summit was called into question.
Vladimir Putin’s video appeal to the participants of the BRICS Business Forum
On the eve of the XV BRICS Summit, the traditional BRICS Business Forum was held, attended by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, government officials, business representatives, experts and industry specialists. The parties discussed current issues on the global and regional agenda, achievements and tasks of the BRICS strategic partnership in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres. Also, special attention was paid to the issues of further expansion of the organisation.
- “It is important that the forum focuses on such urgent tasks as ensuring the post-pandemic recovery of the economies of the BRICS states, improving the welfare of citizens, modernising industry and building efficient transport and logistics chains, and stimulating a fair technology transfer.”
- “The illegitimate sanctions practice, the illegal freezing of the assets of sovereign states, and, in fact, the violation of all the basic norms and rules of free trade and economic life, which not so long ago seemed unshakable, also has a serious negative impact on the international economic situation.”
- “We cooperate on the principles of equality, partnership support, and respect for each other’s interests, and this is the essence of the future-oriented strategic course of our association, a course that meets the aspirations of the main part of the world community, the so-called global majority.”
- “Over the past decade, mutual investment by the BRICS member states has increased sixfold. In turn, their investments in the global economy as a whole have doubled, and their total exports have reached 20 per cent of the global figure.”
- “The share of the countries of the association, in which more than three billion people live, has reached almost 26 per cent of world GDP, and in terms of purchasing power parity, the “five” bypasses the “Group of Seven”: the forecast for 2023 is 31.5 per cent against 30 per cent.”
- “An objective, irreversible process of de-dollarisation of our economic ties is gaining momentum; efforts are being made to develop effective mechanisms for mutual settlements and monetary and financial control. As a result, the dollar share in export-import transactions within the BRICS is declining: last year it amounted to only 28.7 per cent.”
- “For its part, Russia is actively reorienting transport and logistics flows to reliable foreign partners, including those from the BRICS countries. Our flagship projects include the Northern Sea Route and the new North-South International Transport Corridor.
- “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that during the year, under the deal, a total of 32.8 million tons of cargo was exported from Ukraine, of which more than 70 per cent went to countries with high and upper middle-income levels, including primarily the European Union. And only about three per cent came from the least developed countries – that is, less than one million tons.
Also, on August 22, an informal meeting of the leaders of the BRICS countries took place. Vladimir Putin joined it using video.
Meeting of the leaders of the BRICS countries in an expanded format (key theses):
- “Our “five” has rightfully established itself in the global arena as an authoritative structure, whose influence in world affairs is consistently strengthening.”
- “I want to note that it was the desire to maintain their hegemony in the world, the desire of some countries to maintain this hegemony, that led to a severe crisis in Ukraine.”
- “Our actions in Ukraine are dictated by only one thing – to end the war unleashed by the West and its satellites in Ukraine against the people living in Donbas.”
- “Dear colleagues, the main thing is that we all unanimously stand in favour of a multipolar world order that is truly just and based on international law”.
- “The Strategy for Economic Partnership of the Association States until 2025 is being successfully implemented. In particular, five-sided cooperation is being strengthened in such areas as the diversification of supply chains, de-dollarisation and the transition to national currencies in mutual settlements, the digital economy, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and fair technology transfer.”
- “We believe that the time has come to establish within the framework of BRICS a permanent commission on transport, which would deal not only with the North-South project but also, in a broader sense, with the development of logistics and transport corridors, interregional and global.”
- “Our chairmanship will be held under the motto “Strengthening multilateralism for equitable global development and security”. We are planning about 200 political, economic and social events that over a dozen Russian cities will host.”
- “It seems that a serious discussion with the BRICS partners, by the way, and the SCO partners – it is important for us – and with the CIS partners and other countries, is overdue for a serious discussion about the future of culture in the world, the preservation and enhancement of the world cultural heritage. By the way, the ninth international cultural forum, already scheduled in St. Petersburg in Russia from November 16 to 18 this year, could become a platform for such a dialogue.”
BRICS leaders’ media statements
On Thursday, August 24, following the results of the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, the heads of states participating in the interstate association made statements to the media. In particular, the Russian president made several statements via video link.
- “I would like to congratulate our new members, who will work full-time next year. I assure all colleagues that we will continue the work we have started today – to expand the influence of BRICS in the world. I mean the establishment of practical work with new members of the organisation and with those who will work in the BRICS field as an “outreach” with our partners who, in one way or another, pay attention to cooperation with our organisation and would like to work with us together.”
- “We treat this with great attention and respect and will organise this work – of course, in contact with all partners, we will consult on how to organise this work. During joint discussions at the level of foreign ministers and other departments, we will draw up appropriate regulations so that the role and importance of BRICS in the world continues to grow.”
BRICS plus/outreach meeting
Also, on August 24, a meeting was held in the BRICS plus / outreach format, attended by the leaders of more than fifty countries and the heads of the executive structures of regional organisations.
- “We all stand for the formation of a new multipolar world order that would be truly balanced and would take into account the sovereign interests of the widest possible range of states, would open up opportunities for the implementation of various development models, helping to preserve the diversity of national cultures and traditions.”
- “BRICS does not compete with anyone or oppose itself to anyone. But it is also evident that this objective process – creating a new world order – still has irreconcilable opponents who seek to slow down this process to restrain the formation of new, independent centres of development and influence in the world.
- “The countries of the so-called golden billion are doing everything to preserve the former, unipolar world. He suits them; he is beneficial to them. They are trying to replace the system of international law with their so-called order, based on rules that no one has seen, rules used, it must be said, for selfish purposes and changing to suit the current political situation at any time and in any way in accordance with the interests of individual countries.
- “The threat to the formation of a new world order is also the radical neoliberalism imposed by some countries, aimed at the destruction of traditional values that are important to all of us: this is the institution of the family, respect for national and religious traditions.”
- “The world majority, to which the countries present here belong, is getting tired of all kinds of pressure and manipulations but is ready for honest, equal and mutually respectful cooperation.”
- “We appreciate that African countries are extremely friendly towards Russia. For its part, Russia is sincerely interested in further deepening multifaceted ties with the African continent, and we will actively promote these ties in practice and implement new joint projects in various fields.”
- “According to experts, by 2050, the world’s population will grow by 1.7 billion people and global energy demand by 22 per cent. First of all, this demand will increase in the least developed and developing countries. Therefore, it is quite apparent that in the foreseeable future, there is no alternative to hydrocarbon fuel, which means that the energy transition, which, of course, is necessary, but still this energy transition to a low-emission economy should be gradual, balanced, carefully calibrated, taking into account the national characteristics and capabilities of countries.
The Second Johannesburg Declaration of the BRICS countries
As a result of the XV BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, the second Johannesburg Declaration of the BRICS countries was adopted, consisting of 94 points. Below are the key takeaways from the declaration:
- “We reiterate our commitment to inclusive multilateralism and respect for international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Charter.”
- “We express concern about the use of unilateral coercive measures that are inconsistent with the principles of the UN Charter and have negative consequences, especially in the developing world.”
- “We call for greater representation of emerging market and developing countries in international organisations and in multilateral forums where they play an important role.”
- “We call for progress to be made in establishing a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, eradicating hunger, achieving food security and nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture and food systems, and adopting sustainable agricultural practices.”
- “We are concerned about ongoing conflicts in many parts of the world. We underline our commitment to the peaceful resolution of differences and disputes through dialogue and comprehensive consultations based on coordination and cooperation, and we support all efforts that contribute to the peaceful resolution of crises.”
- “We welcome the positive developments in the Middle East and the efforts of the BRICS countries to support development, security and stability in the region.”
- “We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, regardless of when, where and by whom terrorist acts are committed. We recognise the threat of terrorism and extremism leading to terrorism and radicalisation. We are committed to combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the cross-border movement of terrorists and terrorist financing networks and safe havens.”
- “We note that an unbalanced recovery from the shocks and hardships caused by the pandemic is exacerbating inequalities around the world.”
- “We have once again outlined our national positions regarding the situation in Ukraine and around it, voiced at the relevant forums, including the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. We note with appreciation relevant offers of mediation and good offices for the peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, including the African Leaders Peace Mission and its proposed path to peace.”
- “We reaffirm the importance of the G20’s continued role as the leading multilateral forum for international financial and economic cooperation, bringing together both developed and developing countries and emerging markets, where the world’s major economies are jointly seeking answers to global challenges.”
- “Recognising that the BRICS countries produce a third of the world’s food, we reaffirm our commitment to strengthening cooperation in the field of agriculture and promoting sustainable development of agriculture and rural areas of the BRICS countries, aimed at strengthening the food security of our countries and the world as a whole.”
- “We reiterate our support for the African Union Agenda 2063 and Africa’s integration efforts, including through the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”
- “We are committed to strengthening cooperation within the BRICS to revitalise the BRICS Partnership for the New Industrial Revolution (PartNIR) and create new opportunities for accelerated industrial development.”
- “We instruct the BRICS Finance Ministers/Central Bank Governors, as appropriate, to consider the use of national currencies, payment instruments and platforms and report back to the next summit.”
- “We note that the BRICS countries have significant experience and potential in the field of nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceuticals. We welcome the decision to establish the BRICS Working Group on Nuclear Medicine to expand cooperation in this area.”
- “We recognise that youth are the driving force behind accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The leadership role of young people is fundamental to accelerate the pace of a just transition based on the principles of intergenerational solidarity, international cooperation, friendship and social transformation.”
- “Dialogue between the political parties of the BRICS countries plays a constructive role in reaching consensus and strengthening cooperation”.
- “We reaffirm the importance of further strengthening the solidarity and cooperation of the BRICS countries based on our common interests and key priorities to further strengthen our strategic partnership.”
- “We appreciate the significant interest of the states of the global South in joining the BRICS. In line with the spirit of the BRICS and the commitment to inclusive multilateralism, the BRICS countries have reached a consensus on guidelines, standards, criteria and procedures for the BRICS enlargement process.”
- “We have decided to invite the Argentine Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to become full members of the BRICS from January 1, 2024.”
Important statements from other BRICS leaders
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the BRICS summit, proposed the creation of a joint space research consortium.
- Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that the BRICS countries must actively mediate in resolving sensitive issues and promoting political solutions.
- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the BRICS leaders believe that the moment has come for the use of local currencies and alternative payment systems.
- Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that one of the criteria for admission of new countries to the BRICS will be that they do not impose sanctions against any member of the organisation, so Western countries will not accept the organisation until they reconsider their sanctions policy.
World media about the ending of the BRICS summit:
- New York Times: BRICS seeks to “challenge” the dominance of Western-led venues such as the G7 and the World Bank.”
- Euractiv: “BRICS plans to expand and promote a development bank as an alternative to existing financial institutions are causing concern in the West.”
- Newsweek: “Beijing and Moscow used the meeting as an opportunity to strike at the US; the potential for serious strategic consequences for Washington is present.”
- Dagens Industri: “The BRICS countries want to become a counterbalance to Western dominance in the world.”
- Wall Street Journal: “BRICS expansion is a victory for the Presidents of China and Russia.”
- Politico: “The BRICS decision reflects the lack of progress in deepening the alliance’s activities, whose members, although they account for a third of global GDP, have different interests. Relations between some of the new members, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, have not been easy, making it impossible to count on concerted action.
- New York Times: “The expansion of the BRICS can be seen as a significant victory for the two leading members of the club: China is increasing its political influence, and Russia is overcoming international isolation. However, the decisions taken underlined the “strange nature” of the group, which is heterogeneous and does not have a clear political course.
- The Guardian: “How the group’s expansion will significantly increase its influence on the world stage is unclear. It is not entirely clear what benefits the new BRICS members will receive. At the moment, this step is more symbolic.”
Outcomes and outlook:
The BRICS summit will indeed have significant political and economic implications for the world.
Firstly, a decision was made to expand the BRICS – from 2024, this union will already include 11 states. Thus, the formalisation of the unification of the Global South is taking place. It is unclear how close relations will be in this union and how well-coordinated its policy will be (especially considering the “weak link” factor – India, which wants to play a double game and is in permanent conflict with China).
Secondly, a proposal has already been officially made, which should cause serious concern in the United States regarding the de-dollarisation of economic relations within the BRICS. This could be a severe blow to US economic hegemony, Washington’s prospects for financial stability, and even the Bretton Woods system itself.
Thirdly, the rule announced at the BRICS summit regarding the non-proliferation of sanctions by BRICS members with respect to other community members reveals the vulnerability of the sanctions regime as a whole and jeopardises the tools to influence violators of existing international rules.
Fourthly, the materialisation of the “Global South” with its new passionarity can seriously challenge the Global West. One can predict an increase in the number of “hot spots” on the planet and a new confrontation – up to the threat of nuclear war. Especially given the willingness of some BRICS members to resolve disputes by military means. There is hardly any danger of BRICS turning into a military-political bloc. However, such a bloc may arise within BRICS. At the same time, most of the BRICS countries will be forced to remain neutral concerning this bloc (for example, as part of China, Iran and Russia). Being within the framework of BRICS, they will not be able to become allies of the West.
The BRICS summit played into the hands of Russia. However, Vladimir Putin was not among the formal participants in the summit. Russia received additional tools of an economic and political nature while at the same time securing the status of a “strike force” and “trigger” of the Global South in confrontation with the West. Also, Russia will use the agreements reached in Johannesburg to expand its economic opportunities and to demonstrate that sanctions against the Russian Federation are limited. Also, the platform developed in Johannesburg can be used by Russia to step up its position on other platforms – in particular, in the UN, the G20 and others.
At the same time, it should be understood that the position of Russia itself in the BRICS currently looks rather limited. Despite the attempt to demonstrate the game in the first racket of the organisation, Russia cannot compete with other BRICS members either in economic matters or in influence on the geopolitical arena. BRICS is currently developing so that other organisation members have more influence on Russia than vice versa. In this context, the organisation’s platform can offer the most stable ground for the cessation of hostilities on the territory of Ukraine.
- Putin’s meetings with the “heads” of the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions of Ukraine
On August 23-24, Vladimir Putin held personal meetings in the Kremlin with the “heads” of the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. During the meetings, social and humanitarian issues were discussed. The Russian President listened to reports on the current situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Also, the “heads” of the temporarily occupied territories reported on the preparations for the elections, which are scheduled for September 8-10.
Outcomes and outlook:
Russia continues showing its readiness to fully include the occupied territories into the Russian Federation. Today, the September 8-10 elections are a real challenge: until now, the occupied territories have been included in the Constitution of the Russian Federation as full-fledged subjects, but they still need their representation in the Federal Assembly. But after the elections, such a representation will appear in the minds of the citizens of the Russian Federation, which will position these territories no longer as occupied but as full-fledged subjects of the federation. It is clear that neither Ukraine nor the world community recognise this accession. Still, additional legal difficulties are introduced regarding a possible future negotiation process. The “party of war” in the Russian leadership is again defeating the “party of peace” and the “party of common sense”.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane crash
On Wednesday, August 23, a video of a plane crash in the Tver region of Russia appeared on the network. A few minutes later, information appeared on several Telegram channels that a private plane belonging to the company of Yevgeny Prigozhin had crashed. Sometime later, many sources reported that Prigozhin himself, as well as representatives of his inner circle, were on board the plane, including Dmitry Utkin, who is considered the commander of the Wagner PMC. The Federal Air Transport Agency said that, in total, there were seven passengers and three crew members on board the aircraft; all were reported dead. The very next day, Vladimir Putin made an official statement about the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin. At the same time, many were divided on the reasons for the plane crash. Also, several sources said that, in fact, Prigozhin was not on board the plane, and the whole situation was a well-planned staging.
- The Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation said that ten people died in the crash of a plane belonging to Prigozhin.
- It became known that the second plane of Prigozhin turned around over Moscow and headed for the airport.
- Some Russian telegram channels began to write that Prigozhin might not have been on board the plane that exploded, even though he was listed among the passengers. Sources said that Prigozhin often “mixed up the tracks”, checking in for one flight but, in reality, flying away on another.
- Also, many observers drew attention to the symbolism: the plane crash and the alleged death of Yevgeny Prigozhin occurred precisely two months after the “mutiny of PMC” Wagner”. Also, the number of those killed in the plane crash coincided with the number of military deaths in the aircraft of the RF Armed Forces shot down by fighters of the Wagner PMC.
- While everyone was discussing whether Prigozhin died on board his plane or not, Putin visited the Kursk region, where he spoke live at the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Kursk.
- Journalist Andrey Zakharov said that Prigozhin actually flew to Russia from Africa that day, and with him was the entire command staff of the Wagner PMC.
- Vladimir Rogov, a representative of the occupation administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, said that a few hours after the crash of Prigozhin’s plane, he spoke with “outstanding musicians” (that is, the leadership of the PMC “Wagner”) and can officially confirm the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin and his inner circle.
- Also, information about the death of Prigozhin was confirmed by the Russian edition of Fontanka, citing its sources within the Wagner PMC.
- Ksenia Sobchak, referring to her sources, also confirmed the information about the death of Prigogine.
- US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson commented on Prigozhin’s plane crash: “We have seen reports of Prigozhin’s death. If they are confirmed, no one should be surprised.”
- The Russian propaganda TV channel Tsargrad reported that the bodies of Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin at the crash site had been previously identified.
- Adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Mikhail Podolyak said that Vladimir Putin was behind the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin: “The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner PMC team two months after the coup attempt is Putin’s signal to the Russian elites on the eve of the 2024 elections. “Carefully! Disloyalty equals death.”
- Telegram channels from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media pool disseminated information that Prigozhin died “as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia.”
- Several pro-Kremlin speakers began to claim that Prigozhin’s plane was blown up by some “enemies of Russia” (for example, Ukrainian and Western intelligence services) in order not only to kill Prigozhin but also to push the Wagner PMC and the Russian authorities against their foreheads.
- Joe Biden commented on Prigozhin’s death: “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m not surprised. Little is happening in Russia, whatever Putin is behind. But I don’t know for sure.”
- A few hours after the crash of Prigozhin’s plane, two main versions of the disaster appeared. According to the first version, the aircraft was shot down by air defence systems. According to the second, an explosive device detonated inside the plane. Also, there was information that Prigozhin’s private plane turned off all communication systems, flying close to Putin’s residence in Valdai.
- The Al-Jazeera TV channel, citing a source, said that Prigozhin’s phone was found at the crash site, but his body has not yet been identified.
- The report of the Flightradar service notes that on the eve of the crash, Prigozhin’s plane gained and lost altitude several times in a short period of time.
- On Thursday, August 24, some Russian media, citing their sources, announced that Prigozhin’s body was already in the Tver Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination.
- The first suspect in the case of blowing up Prigozhin’s plane was his personal pilot, who had access to the plane and went on vacation shortly before the crash.
- Satellite images have appeared showing the dismantling a part of the Wagner PMC camp in the village of Tsel near Osipovichi (Belarus). At the same time, Ascolta sources said there were no movements inside the country, and Wagner PMC continues to guard strategic facilities where tactical nuclear weapons are stored.
- Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine had nothing to do with Prigozhin’s death: “Everyone understands who is involved.”
- Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that PMC “Wagner” can only become a more dangerous force after the likely death of Prigozhin.
- The investigation has a new version of the crash of Prigozhin’s plane – careless handling of ammunition on board during the flight, according to the Russian public. This is because small arms, ammunition and grenades were found at the crash site in the Tver region, which, apparently, belonged to the aircraft passengers from among the Wagner mercenaries.
- Vladimir Putin issued an official statement confirming the death of Prigozhin: “Preliminary information says that employees of the Wagner company were there.”
- The official representative of the EU Foreign Service, Peter Stano, expressed doubts about the reliability of the information about the death of Prigozhin: “Today, almost nothing that comes from Russia is not credible.”
- At the same time, the Wall Street Journal, citing US intelligence, noted that Prigozhin died. The publication also stated that US intelligence did not record the launch of air defence missiles in the area of the crash of Prigozhin’s plane. Supposedly, Western officials believe that a bomb exploded in a business jet.
- On Friday, August 25, the Financial Times stated that Russia’s operations in Africa will not stop after Prigozhin’s death but may lose intensity. The publication’s interlocutors allegedly noted that the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense will now try to absorb the PMC and its operations in Africa, replacing the leadership and key figures of the Wagner PMC.
- The wing and landing gear of Prigozhin’s business jet were found in the river in the Tver region of the Russian Federation, according to the Russian public. They fell 3 kilometres from the crash site of the main part of the aircraft and a few hundred meters from the place where the tail fell. This confirmed the version that the plane fell apart while still in the air.
- Peskov called the allegations that Putin was behind Prigozhin’s death “an absolute lie”. Speaking about the reasons for the plane crash, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation said that there are still a few facts that will have to be clarified by the investigation.
- During a press conference, Lukashenka stated that Prigozhin never asked him for security guarantees: “To answer this question directly, I shouldn’t ensure Prigozhin’s security. This is the first. Secondly, the conversation never went in such a vein. And thirdly, remember: on security, we approached this twice. The first time I called him, there were negotiations when they marched to Moscow. I told him: “Zhenya [pet form of Prigozhin’s full name – ed.], do you understand that you will kill people and die yourself?” In the heat of this man (only from the front): “To hell with him, I’ll die!” I told him: “Zhenya, I’ll send you a rope and a bar of soap.” – “No, no, no. I don’t want that. I will die a hero.” Here is the first conversation. The second time, he came to me with Dima Utkin. I categorically warned them both: “Guys, take care.”
- Lukashenka also said that Putin cannot be behind Prigozhin’s death: “I can’t say who did it. I won’t become a lawyer, even for my older brother. But I know Putin. This prudent, calm, and slow person makes decisions on other, less complex issues. Therefore, I cannot imagine that Putin did this, that Putin is to blame. Too rough, unprofessional work, for that matter.”
- According to Lukashenka, PMC “Wagner” will continue to “live” in Belarus: “Wagner” lived, “Wagner” is alive and “Wagner” will live in Belarus, no matter how much someone would not like it. Even with Prigogine, we built a system of how Wagner will be located in our country. And these pictures from space show that we are dismantling something … Because we are removing extra tents – so much is unnecessary. The core remains here: someone went on vacation, someone decided to live on the sidelines, but telephones, addresses, passwords, and appearances in this core are known. Within a few days, everyone will be here, up to 10 thousand people. Now, there is no need to keep them here. Therefore, they do not run anywhere. If we need this unit, they will live and work with us.”
- Lukashenka noted that he had previously received information about the preparation of the assassination attempt on Prigozhin, which he brought to the head of the PMC through Putin: “The last time we flew to the Emirates, I received very serious information from sources that cannot be deeper than the assassination attempt on Yevgeny Prigogine. Within two hours, they found the Russian ambassador to the Emirates and called him to me. I gave him a cypher message to the Kremlin, Putin, and Bortnikov about the impending assassination attempt on Prigozhin.”
- On Sunday, August 27, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation officially confirmed the deaths of Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin in a plane crash on August 23.
Outcomes and outlook:
The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin – regardless of whether he became a victim of Putin’s insidiousness, intra-elite showdowns or provocation by Western intelligence agencies – is unlikely to change anything in the Russian political system. The hope that the elites will disown Putin, fearing they will be treated like Prigozhin, is unlikely to be justified. To say that a “Wagnerian rebellion” will soon begin is also ridiculous. Prigozhin has recently had minimal influence on the Wagner PMC, which is under the control of the Special Operations Forces.
It also cannot be said that Prigozhin almost monopolised contracts with African states. The death of Prigozhin coincided with the disbandment of the Wagner PMC as a combat unit. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, a few days before the death of Prigoin, made a trip to Syria, Libya and several African countries, during which he convinced both Bashar al-Assad and General Haftar to refuse the services of Wagner. As a result, the Wagnerites in Syria were ordered to lay down their arms and prepare for deportation (option – to go to Iran). That is, we are witnessing the liquidation of the “Cossack freemen” named after Prigozhin, Russia’s transition to strict control over army resources – including to prevent situations rehearsed on June 24-25 this year in Rostov-on-Don.
At the same time, one should not get hung up on the versions about the confirmed death of Prigozhin or the staging of a plane crash to withdraw the curator of the Wagner PMC from public activity but keep him alive. In any case, we are unlikely to find out the truth, just as we will not see Prigozhin himself again (in the case of the second option).
Earlier, in a separate article, Ascolta wrote in more detail about the death of Prigozhin and his inner circle members.
- The mission of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, in Turkiye
Last week, many observers noted the long absence of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, from the media space. On Friday, August 4, he held the last press briefing with journalists, after which he stopped commenting on the situation on behalf of the Kremlin. True, already on August 6, the New York Times published an article with a commentary by Peskov, in which he allegedly stated that Putin would be re-elected in the upcoming presidential elections with a probability of 90%. Immediately after the publication of the material, Peskov accused the magazine of distorting his words and was forced to give a refutation. Since that time, he has made no further public comments.
After a long absence from the information space, Dmitry Peskov, for the first time, voiced the official position of the Kremlin only on August 25. The comment concerned the crash of Prigozhin’s plane and the refutation of the accusations against Putin. At the same time, Ascolta sources note that Dmitry Peskov was in Turkiye for a long time, preparing for the future visit of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Sochi.
Outcomes and outlook:
Dmitry Peskov is one of those who are lobbying for the interests of Turkey and Erdogan in Moscow. It is no coincidence that Peskov, who is well acquainted with the Turkish elites, was instructed to conduct preliminary negotiations that will form the basis of the meeting of the Russian and Turki presidents in Sochi on September 4. According to reports, Peskov’s leading partner in the negotiation process was Hakan Fidan, the current Turkish foreign minister and former head of the Turkish security service, whom Peskov has known for more than twenty years.
Fidan is now regarded as Turkey’s second most powerful political figure and the most likely successor to Erdogan as president. It is believed that along the Peskov-Fidan line in July 2016, the Russian special services informed Erdogan about a military coup being prepared against him.
An essential statement could be made in Sochi if the existing diplomatic communication channels were insufficient to organise the visit and Peskov’s trip was required. Interestingly, several experts believe that Peskov is being prepared for another mission: Putin likely wants to see him as the future Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia after the 2024 presidential election.
- Budapest meeting on the “grain deal”
In the previous digest, Ascolta wrote about the planned negotiations in Budapest between representatives of Turkey, Russia and Hungary on food supplies, including the possibility of restoring the functioning of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (grain deal). Also, on the eve of the talks in Budapest, the media reported that Turkey and Qatar were preparing a new format for a “grain deal” by Russia and Qatar, in which Russian grain is planned to be delivered to poor countries, in particular to Africa. Turkey will act as an organiser in this, and Qatar as a sponsor of supplies.
Head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov arrived in Hungary on Sunday, where he met with Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived in Budapest on Monday. Several Ascolta sources note that the main focus during the negotiations was on the resumption of the “grain deal”, the details of which may be published after Erdogan visits Sochi.
Outcomes and outlook:
The idea of creating an alternative “grain deal” is not new. After Russia’s withdrawal from the previous agreement and rocket attacks on Ukrainian ports and grain transhipments, Russia has repeatedly sent signals to the world that it is ready to return to discussing options for a new agreement format – but without Ukraine. However, Turkiye’s position remains unchanged: she insists on resuming the previous structure of the deal.
The new format provides far-reaching plans for Russia to create a separate centre of influence in the world with an eye on the Global South. Russian and Kazakhstani grain can block the volume of supplies that previously came from Ukraine. Russia also proposes to abandon pricing through the Chicago Grain Exchange, offering its rules of the game, which now seem more flexible and acceptable to all players. But Turkey fears that she may become dependent on Russia, so she would like to diversify the risks. That is why she is lobbying to re-open the “Ukrainian” way.
Interestingly, Rustam Minnikhanov, the rais of Tatarstan, who occupies a modest position in the Russian state hierarchy, was sent to Budapest for negotiations with Erdogan and Al Thani. However, Minnikhanov is a prominent figure in the Islamic world. He has extensive connections in Turkiye and among the leaders of the Arab states.
In addition, Minnikhanov may soon be promoted to Moscow: Kazan has long been saying that Minnikhanov will have a high position in the capital, especially after strengthening the positions of his relative and closest associate, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin. Minnikhanov also has long-standing friendly relations with the father of Alina Kabaeva, a famous former football player, Marat Kabaev. Not so long ago, Minnikhanov made two foreign visits – to Belarus and Azerbaijan, where he met with the presidents. His status is specially raised to a high level, and the “Tatar team” in the Kremlin receives serious weight. Now, it remains to be seen what position Minnikhanov can get in the foreseeable future (perhaps even before the start of the presidential election).
In this context, it is essential to note that in addition to the above-described negotiations in Hungary and their participants, at the same time, the leaders of Serbia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan were in Budapest. With the latter, Budapest concluded a political agreement on gas supplies to Hungary.
- Vladimir Putin’s refusal to participate in the G20 summit in New Delhi
On September 9-10, the G20 summit starts in New Delhi. This year, he chairs an informal association of the world’s largest economies, which includes 19 countries of the world and the European Union. Bangladesh, Egypt, Spain, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Singapore are invited to this year’s summit. Ukraine was not included in the list of invited countries.
At the same time, over the past week, there have been active disputes regarding the personal visit to the summit of Vladimir Putin. The final decision was announced only on Friday, August 25. So, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Russian president does not plan to participate in the G20 summit personally. Peskov also noted that Putin currently has an extremely busy schedule, and the format of his participation in the upcoming summit is still being worked out.
Outcomes and outlook:
Initially, the possibility of Putin’s trip to the G20 summit gave hope for organising an informal meeting between the President of the Russian Federation, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (although the chances of such a meeting were slim). Russia decided that if such a meeting does not take place. Putin finds himself in virtual isolation and a situation of boycott by Western states; this could lead to serious image losses for the President of the Russian Federation.
Putin was also convinced that his trip to New Delhi was not desirable for security reasons: the Kremlin is sure that Western intelligence agencies organised the plane explosion with Prigozhin on board. The combination of these factors led to the fact that Putin decided not to go to New Delhi, making it clear that he did not expect any severe and breakthrough decisions from the summit.