The leader of the Wagner Group, which attempted to destabilise Russia’s military leadership in June, was on board a plane that crashed on Wednesday, killing all passengers, according to Reuters.
The incident occurred two months after Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a brief insurrection, which was viewed as the most serious challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he took office.
Since then, the destiny of Wagner and its controversial chief has been uncertain. On Wednesday, Russia’s emergency ministry revealed the crash of a private plane flying between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
According to early data, all ten passengers on board died, including three crew members, according to the government. Later, Russia’s aviation agency confirmed that Wagner’s boss was on board.
“The following passengers were on board the Embraer-135 (EBM-135BJ) aircraft, according to the airline:… “Prigozhin, Yevgeny,” Rosaviatsia stated, adding Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who oversaw Wagner’s operations and purportedly served in Russian military intelligence.
Wagner Group-linked Telegram accounts uploaded footage of the plane’s wreckage burning in a field, which AFP could not independently authenticate.
Rosaviatsia announced the formation of a special committee to investigate the crash of an MNT-Aero aircraft. The Investigative Committee of Russia, which investigates major crimes, said it had begun an investigation into the crash.
So far, the bodies of eight persons have been discovered at the accident scene, according to RIA Novosti, citing emergency services. Meanwhile, Putin was delivering a speech commemorating the 80th anniversary of the World War II battle of Kursk.
He made no mention of the disaster, instead praising “all our soldiers who are fighting bravely and resolutely” in Ukraine’s special military operation.
However, both Kiev and Washington reacted quickly to initial reports of the incident. “I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised,” US President Joe Biden remarked.
“There isn’t much that happens in Russia that (President) Putin isn’t involved in.” But I don’t know enough to give you an answer.”
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential assistant, alleged on social media that the plane crash was “a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections.” ‘Beware! Death equals disloyalty.”
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled opposition leader of Belarus, where some Wagner fighters fled after their brief insurrection in Russia, said Prigozhin would be missed.
“He was a murderer and should be remembered as such,” she wrote on Facebook.
Prigozhin, who had previously operated in the shadows, rose to the fore during Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. He was a driving force behind the conquest of numerous Ukrainian towns, including Bakhmut, and fiercely denounced Russia’s traditional military leadership.
Prigozhin, on the other hand, was embroiled in a months-long power battle with the defence ministry, which he accused of attempting to “steal” Wagner’s triumphs.
On June 23 and 24, tensions erupted into a brief insurrection with the Wagner group.
Thousands of mercenaries picked up arms and marched from southern Russia to Moscow, hoping to depose the country’s military authorities.
The rebellion concluded with a compromise mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, under which Prigozhin and some of his troops were scheduled to relocate to nearby Belarus.
Some Wagner Group fighters went to Belarus to train the special forces of the ex-Soviet republic.
But Prigozhin’s fate remained unknown: he appeared to have some freedom and attended a conference at the Kremlin where he refused to hand over command of his mercenary force. Nonetheless, he largely avoided public scrutiny.
Since the end of June, his Telegram channel, where he regularly communicated, has been offline. Wagner-linked Telegram channels, on the other hand, allegedly relayed uncommon communications.
On Monday, a video surfaced of Prigozhin allegedly in Africa, where he promised to make “freer.”
The mercenary organisation has a substantial military presence in Africa, where it has collaborated with a number of countries, notably Mali and the Central African Republic.