(CTN News) – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious figure behind the Wagner mercenary group, has met an untimely demise following a plane crash on a Wednesday evening north of Moscow.
The Russian authorities have confirmed the unfortunate incident, which comes just two months after Prigozhin’s failed attempt at leading a mutiny against the army’s top brass.
The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry have remained tight-lipped about Prigozhin’s fate, leaving room for speculation to run wild. Prigozhin, known for his open opposition to the army’s leadership due to what he perceived as its mismanagement of Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, had gained a reputation as a controversial figure.
A Telegram channel with links to Wagner, named Grey Zone, has declared Prigozhin dead. The channel portrayed him as a hero and patriot who fell victim to unidentified forces labeled as “traitors to Russia.”
Given the latter’s impending Independence Day celebrations, the circumstances surrounding his death are shrouded in mystery, prompting supporters to point fingers at various actors, from the Russian state to Ukraine.
The headquarters of Wagner in St. Petersburg illuminated its windows in the shape of a giant cross, paying tribute to Prigozhin. His demise, however, raises concerns about the future of the Wagner Group, a powerful entity that had previously drawn the ire of President Vladimir Putin after its ill-fated attempt at an armed mutiny against the army’s high command.
The crash has ignited speculations about who could be responsible, with some suggesting that Putin could stand to gain from Prigozhin’s demise. This incident has removed a prominent figure who dared to challenge Putin’s authority significantly since his rise to power in 1999.
The co-founder of Wagner, Dmitry Utkin, also lost his life in the crash, as revealed by Russia’s aviation agency, Rosaviatsia. The agency disclosed the names of all ten individuals on board the ill-fated plane.
Russian investigators have initiated a criminal investigation to ascertain the cause of the crash, while sources have suggested the possibility of surface-to-air missile involvement, though this remains unconfirmed.
The plane was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg before it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region. International reactions have been mixed, with U.S. President Joe Biden expressing uncertainty about the incident and hinting at potential Russian involvement.
Prominent critics of Putin, including Abbas Gallyamov and Bill Browder, have weighed in with their own theories. Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin turned critic, suggested that the crash could be a maneuver by Putin to solidify his power and deter opposition. Browder echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing Putin’s history of quelling dissent.
The incident also involved a second private jet linked to Prigozhin, which altered its course back to Moscow following the crash of the first plane. This intriguing development has further fueled speculation about the circumstances of the crash.
Prigozhin, who had spearheaded the failed mutiny against Russia’s top army brass, was a prominent figure in the Ukrainian conflict. He criticized Russia’s handling of the war and made attempts to challenge key military figures.
The mutiny was eventually quelled, seemingly with an agreement that allowed Prigozhin to relocate to Belarus. However, he had continued to move within Russia freely, raising questions about the nature of the agreement.
As investigations unfold, the world awaits more concrete answers about this tragic incident, its causes, and the potential implications for Russia’s domestic and international landscape. The loss of Yevgeny Prigozhin marks the end of an era and prompts a reevaluation of the power dynamics within Russia.