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CANCER rumours, wigs and mystery surround the fate of missing Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin as five chilling clues suggest the mutinous maniac is dead.
Vladimir Putin may have purged his former lap dog for turning on its master as the warlord remains silent and his whereabouts unknown weeks after his botched mutiny.
Speculation over the fate of Prigozhin is rife as the Kremlin peddles out a mess of contradicting statements while remaining tight-lipped about the location Wagner chief.
Multiple clues and sources hint at his potential demise – including former US Army leader Robert Abrams declaring the rebel would never be seen again in public.
Prigozhin's steaming rebellion was blown out after he struck a bitter, but unclear deal with Putin – putting an end to an astonishing 24 hours that saw Wagner forces reach within 125 miles of the capital.
As Russia was almost brought to the brink, the fault lines in the despot's regime were exposed for all to see.
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Now, it appears paranoid Putin is readying his defences, consolidating his power and seemingly removing the weak links.
In the fallout of Prigozhin's aborted "coup", the fate of thousands of Wagner forces and their sledgehammer-wielding leader has been shrouded in mystery.
"We just don't know how this is playing out," Keir Giles, a Russian security expert from Chatham House, told The Sun.
He referenced Winston Churchill's iconic line that looking at Russian politics is "comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug".
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If Prigozhin is forgiven for his sins, "it reveals a deep dysfunctions and schisms within the Russian state apparatus that leaves Putin in a very dangerous state", Giles said.
Kremlin hotshots have mysteriously and systematically disappeared – sparking panic Putin's purge is on, and time could now be up for the most mutinous of them all.
Purging the unwanted or disgraced is "perfectly normal" for the Putin regime, Giles said.
His inner circle are "often 'removed' but they may resurface, possibly from a place where they can no longer challenge Putin."
Giles said Prigozhin – who had "nothing to lose" – might have lost it all if Putin followed through with his promise to "punish" the Wagner rebel.
It comes as a photo showing Prigozhin in his underwear circulating on Telegram fuelled speculation over the warlord's whereabouts.
The picture, shared by a Ukrainian channel, shows the Wagner boss in a military tent but it remains unclear where or when it was taken – adding to the mystery around his fate.
Conflicting reports suggested it was taken on June 12 before Prigozhin's failed coup while others indicated it was taken a month later at a base in Osipovichi in Belarus.
1. Ex-US General claims he is dead or in prison
Former US Army leader Robert Abrams confidently declared this week that Prigozhin had no future – and said he doesn't believe he is alive.
The retired general said: "My personal assessment is that I doubt we’ll see Prigozhin ever again publicly."
"I think he'll either be put in hiding, or sent to prison, or dealt with some other way, but I doubt we’ll ever see him again," he told ABC News.
Questioned if he was alive, Abrams responded: "I personally don't think he is, and if he is, he's in a prison somewhere."
The Kremlin has so far feigned disinterest in his whereabouts -stating they neither have the "ability" or "desire" to follow his movements.
2. Putin insists Wagner Group 'does not exist'
On Friday, the Russian despot insisted that Wagner – the powerful mercenary army that does his bidding around the world – doesn't exist.
He told Russian newspaper Kommersant: "But Wagner does not exist."
It comes just weeks on from their extraordinary, but fleeting, uprising that rattled his regime.
"There is no law on private military organisations. It just doesn't exist," Putin said.
The startling comments further fuelled speculation that the Russian tyrant was cryptically hinting at the death of the group's emblematic leader.
Keir Giles sees it as an attempt by Putin to "re-insert his grip on power" and reclaim the narrative.
"He wants to return to the fiction that Wagner does not belong to the Russian state, stepping back into the Russian comfort zone that black is white and white is black," he told The Sun.
3. 'Fake' meeting between Putin and Prigozhin
Amid contradicting statements made by Putin's cronies this week, the most surprising was an alleged backdoor meeting between Putin and Prigozhin late last month.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Putin had held a secret face-to-face talk with Prigozhin on June 29 – just five days after his insurrection.
The bizarre claim suggests that instead of going to Belarus as per his exile deal, he was welcomed back into the gilded halls of the Kremlin.
Peskov said 35 people were invited to the three-hour summit with Prigozhin, including senior field commanders in his paid-killer army, as they discussed the reasons for the mutiny.
During the meeting, Putin is believed to have given an "assessment" of the Wagner Group's efforts in Bakhmut as well as the mutiny.
It was also bizarrely claimed that Putin gave his former ally the order to "bring back Volodymyr Zelensky's head".
If true, it suggests Putin made a humiliating U-turn in private after condemning Prigozhin as a "traitor".
Yet no pictures of the alleged meeting were published.
And experts cast doubt over the reported crisis summit, including General Adams who questioned its authenticity.
"I'd be surprised if we actually see proof of life that Putin met with Prigozhin. I think it's highly staged," he said.
Meanwhile, Keir Giles told The Sun "It doesn't seem likely".
However, he added: "But the whole escapade has been unlikely, it's another twist in the surreality that we have already seen, no more implausible than what's already happened."
4. Wagner chief 'sick with cancer'
Kremlin insiders have claimed that the warmonger's alleged cancer diagnosis may have spurred his decision to launch his so-called "march of justice".
The sources suggested that Prigozhin underwent "years of intensive therapy" for stomach cancer before entering remission.
A former Wagner mercenary also reported he had "nothing to lose" when he went against his former pal Putin last month.
The anonymous source said: "This is a man with a cut-out stomach and intestines!"
During an FSB raid on Prigozhin's St Petersburg mansion earlier this month, documents were found corresponding to his treatment for cancer.
One of the many passports found was in the name of "Dmitry Geiler", who was a "Super VIP" patient at a specialist clinic linked to Putin.
Medical equipment was also reportedly turned up in the raid, provoking further speculation he was receiving treatment for cancer at home.
5. Two top generals linked to Prigozhin vanish
As Putin desperately attempts to pull off business-as-usual coolness, there seems to be turmoil behind the scenes as the despot's Kremlin clique dwindles in numbers.
And it's now feared Prigozhin could be next in a long line of purges.
General Sergey Surovikin – renowned for his merciless manoeuvres – has not been since June 24 amid rumours he knew about Prigozhin's plans.
The former commander of Russia's forces in Ukraine – known as General Armageddon – is feared dead after vanishing for almost three weeks and missing his wife's birthday.
Not long after Surovikin released an unusual video appeal calling for the mercenaries to stop their rebellion last month, various reports suggested he had been arrested and was under interrogation.
The military hardman was rumoured to have had prior knowledge of Wagner's plot to oust Russia's top military leaders – a claim confirmed by US intelligence.
Surovikin is believed to be close to Wagner chief, who enthusiastically praised him in public as Russia's most competent military commander.
"Surovikin is a legendary person, he was born to faithfully serve the Motherland," Prigozhin said last October.
Adding fuel to the fire, Andrei Kartapolov, head of Russia's defence affairs committee, said Surovikin is "resting now, he is not available at the moment".
Next in the firing line of a vengeful Putin is said to be Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov.
During the brief insurrection, the humiliated general was captured by a triumphant Prigozhin along with his War HQ, which was taken without a single shot being fired.
UK's Ministry of Defence reported that Yevkurov had been notably absent from a televised appearance of Russia's military leadership.
And adding to the intrigue, Prigozhin's sworn enemy General Gerasimov has also faded from view.
The Chief of the General Staff vanished sometime in the chaotic aftermath of Wagner's lightning rebellion, although he recently briefly popped back up at a military command HQ.
Rybar channel, a popular Russian military blog written by ex-military translator Mikhail Zvinchuk, claimed Gerasimov now "has nothing to do with military operations".
Teplinskiy is described as “de facto in charge of the [military] operation”, according to the Moscow Times.
While the fate of Prigozhin remains cloudy, Russia's Defence Ministry said Wagner was handing over its weapons to the Russian military.
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Footage appeared to show a column of Wagner troops on the move in Russia – 19 days after their aborted march on Moscow.
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