Russia’s civil aviation authority has confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, was among those listed on the Embraer jet that crashed, resulting in no survivors. The aircraft met its tragic end in the Tver region, north of Moscow, while en route from Moscow to St Petersburg.
Telegram channel Grey Zone, known to have ties with Wagner, reported the possibility that the plane was downed by Russian air defences. Witnesses in the area reported hearing two distinct explosions before the crash and observing two vapour trails in the sky.
Emergency services are actively scouring the crash site, and as per Ria news agency, eight bodies have so far been retrieved. Another aircraft associated with Prigozhin is reported to have landed safely in the Moscow region.
Prigozhin, often referred to as the ‘mercenary boss’, was the driving force behind an attempted coup against the Russian armed forces in June. The bold endeavour saw him mobilising his troops from Ukraine, taking control of the southern Russian city of Rostov on Don, and even hinting at a potential advance towards Moscow. This act was the culmination of prolonged tensions between Prigozhin and Russian military commanders over the ongoing Ukraine conflict.
In the aftermath, a settlement was reached allowing the Wagner forces the option to either relocate to Belarus or integrate with the Russian army. Despite agreeing to shift to Belarus, Prigozhin’s movements seemed unrestricted. He was spotted in Russia on multiple occasions and even released footage suggesting his presence in Africa.
Observers of Russian affairs have since referred to him as a “dead man walking”. President Putin’s immediate response to Prigozhin’s audacious challenge in June was scathing, denouncing it as a betrayal. Subsequent comments from CIA director William Burns suggested that Putin is known for exacting revenge, furthering speculation on the circumstances of the crash.
While it remains speculative, the abrupt nature of Prigozhin’s alleged end, if verified, will inevitably stir debates and skepticism on whether this was a mere accident.