The commander of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who in June led a short-lived rebellion against the Russian military leadership, was killed on Wednesday in a private plane crash in Russia.
All those inside, including his right forearm, Dmitry Utkin, were killed.
The Russian Air Transport Authority confirmed that Prigozhin was on board the private plane, which was heading from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and it crashed near the village of Kozhinkino, in the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, killing everyone inside.
The authority said that according to the airline, the following passengers were on board the plane that crashed, which was an Embraer-135, enumerating the names of all passengers, including Prigozhin and his right-hand man, Dmitry Utkin.
Russian news agencies had reported that a private passenger plane crashed on Wednesday during a domestic flight, killing all 10 people on board, one of whom may be the leader of the Wagner armed group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, because his name was on its passenger list.
Prigozhin’s name appeared on the passenger list of the plane, which was heading from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it crashed and everyone on board died.
For its part, the Russian Emergencies Ministry said in a post on Telegram, “There were 10 people on board, including a crew of three, and according to preliminary information, all the people on board the plane died”.
The plane, an Embraer Legacy, crashed near the village of Kozhenkono, in the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, and Russian Emergencies Ministry confirmed in its statement that it’s leading search operations.
For its part, several channels on Telegram that it says are linked to the Wagner Group broadcast videos that it said that the plane was stroke by air defense.
In these videos, the plane wreckage was on fire while falling from the air.
Russian RIA Novosti quoted an official in the emergency services as saying that the bodies of eight people have been found so far at the crash site.
And while emergency services were recovering bodies from the crash site, President Vladimir Putin was delivering a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk in World War II.
Putin visited this region in southwestern Russia near the border with Ukraine to commemorate this anniversary in front of a crowd of his compatriots.
In his speech, the Russian president didn’t mention the plane crash, contenting himself with saluting the loyal Russian soldiers who are fighting with courage and determination in Ukraine.
The Russian president stressed that devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the military oath unites all participants in the special military operation, the name that Moscow gives to its attack on Ukraine.
On the other hand, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak considered in a post on X platform (formerly Twitter) before the Russian Air Transport Authority confirmed the death of Wagner leader that “getting rid of Prigozhin and Wagner’s leadership two months after the coup attempt is a message from Putin to the Russian elites before the 2024 elections,” adding, “Putin doesn’t forgive anyone”.
The US President Joe Biden had stressed that he wasn’t surprised that Prigozhin might have been killed upon the first news of the crash.
“There’re not many things that are happening in Russia that Putin isn’t behind,” Biden said, stressing that he doesn’t currently have enough information to know the answer.
The leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said that Prigozhin was a “criminal murderer”, stressing that “no one will miss him”.
Tikhanovskaya hoped that his death would dismantle Wagner’s presence in Belarus.
Putin had described Prigozhin, without naming him, as a “traitor” following the failed rebellion led by the Wagner leader against the Russian military leadership in June.
During the few hours of the rebellion, Prigozhin’s men seized military positions in southern Russia before marching towards Moscow.
However, Prigozhin soon stopped his advance and ended his rebellion on the evening of June 24, in an agreement with the Kremlin mediated by Belarus.
For reasons that weren’t clear, it seemed that the Wagner leader continued to travel to and from Russia after his uprising against the military leadership, so that he participated, a few days after his failed rebellion, in a meeting in the Kremlin.
Despite his rebelliousness, Prigozhin evaded all legal prosecution.
Two days before his death, Prigozhin appeared in a video posted by groups close to Wagner on Telegram, Monday evening in which he said he was in Africa and working to make Russia greater on all continents and ensure more freedom in Africa.
This was Prigozhin’s first appearance since he decided to stop his rebellion against the Russian government last June.
In the video, Prigozhin appeared armed and dressed in military clothing in a desert area.
In the video, which was broadcast on Telegram accounts close to Wagner, he said, “We’re working! The temperature is +50, just like we like it. The Wagner Group is carrying out a reconnaissance mission, and this enhances the greatness of Russia on all continents and guarantees more freedom for Africa.
Saying that his group represents a nightmare for the jihadists of the Islamic State and al Qaeda, he called on Prigozhin to volunteer in the ranks of his group to fulfill the tasks that were set and that we promised to fulfill.
He didn’t mention which country he was in, while the group is located in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Since the end of his 24-hour rebellion in Russia, Prigozhin has only communicated with the world via voice messages broadcast on Telegram, unlike what he used to do when he was in Ukraine when his preferred medium of media communication was video recordings.
Wagner’s rebellion damaged Russia’s prestige, and ended on the evening of June 24 with an agreement stipulating that Prigozhin would leave for Belarus, and his fighters were given the choice between joining him there, joining the regular Russian army, or returning to civilian life.
While some of Wagner’s fighters settled in Belarus, where they worked as trainers for Belarusian soldiers, Prigozhin’s whereabouts remained unknown.
The crash comes on the same day that Moscow announced that General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of the Russian Air Force and one of the most prominent military officers, had been relieved of his duties.
Close links were brought together between General Surovikin, who was famous for his toughness and cruelty, and the Wagner Group.
There have been rumors for weeks of his impeachment in the wake of the group’s rebellion.