Heir to Putin controls own army of rapists and ‘would push nuclear button’

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    Vladimir Putin's potential successors could be even more dangerous for the West as the dictator himself, experts have claimed.

    The warmonger's popularity has plummeted since the controversial invasion of Ukraine, and with the despot's possible health concerns making headlines, political experts across the globe have been speculating on who could replace him.

    But as dangerous as Putin may be, the list of potential successors is just as scary – if not worse – with Yevgeny Prigozhin seen as an early front runner.

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    Prigozhin is a close confidant of Putin and earned the nickname "Putin's Chef" because his restaurants hosted grand state dinners for the Russian president.

    He has earned a fearsome reputation as founder of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group formed of convicted criminals including murderers and rapists currently fighting in Ukraine.

    David Marples, a university professor of Russian and East European History at the University of Alberta in Canada, told the Daily Star: "I think [Yevgeny] Prigozhin is the most ambitious and therefore the most likely successor at the moment.

    "If Wagner is given more troops and succeeds in taking Bakhmut, then he is clearly the leading candidate."

    The Wagner Group is a special unit of mercenaries made up of convicts – including murderers, rapists and drug dealers – taken from Russian prisons and sent to fight on the front lines.

    Prigozhin is a convicted criminal himself, having served nine years in detention for robbery and fraud before he was pardoned in 1988 and released in 1990.

    After long denying his involvement with Wagner, Prigozhin admitted in September that he had founded the group after a video showed him in a Mari El prison promising inmates freedom if they fought for six months.

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    Wagner's work has sparked praise for Prigozhin from Russian state media, despite the project is proving to be particularly violent, with allegations of atrocities and commanders executing their ex-inmate troops publicly.

    "Those who disobey are eliminated – and it’s done publicly," a captured former Wagner Group member said last week.

    "There are squadrons of liquidators… shelling began. One of the prisoners laid down and didn’t cover his own men.

    "The shelling stopped, he went back, and the boss shouted: 'Why didn’t you go forward?' And they killed him. The boss is killed if his team deserts."

    Meanwhile, California Institute of Technology political science professor D R Kiewiet had another future leader in mind.

    "The obvious successor is [Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation] Dmitri Medvedev," he told the Star.

    "He is as corrupt as any of them, which is a point in his favour, and he has clearly been campaigning for the job with the ultra-hardline statements he has been making since the war started.

    "But this also makes him the one guy that the rest of the contenders could all gang up on, at which point all bets are off."

    Regardless of who comes out on top in the fight for leadership, Marples says it could be bad news for the West.

    "The nuclear arsenal is all that is now left of Russia’s reputation as a power," Marples added.

    "It will be the backdrop for any future talks. The Russians will likely use it as a rhetorical device to maintain the fiction that they are a world power and thereby strengthen their hand in negotiations.

    "Should the West worry about the Russians actually using their nukes? Yes," he added.

    "The immediate prospects for improving relations with Russia are fairly grim.

    "None of the contenders would seem to be peace seekers, and Russia [will] remain authoritarian."

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