Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the notorious Wagner private military company and a central figure in recent armed rebellion against the Russian military, is presumed dead following a plane crash north of Moscow. All ten individuals on board the ill-fated aircraft tragically lost their lives in the incident.
The plane crash immediately raised suspicions due to the enigmatic circumstances surrounding Prigozhin. His fate had been shrouded in intense speculation ever since his involvement in the mutiny earlier this year. Russia’s civil aviation agency, citing the airline, confirmed that Prigozhin was indeed on board the plane, further intensifying the intrigue surrounding the incident.
The rebellion led by Prigozhin had drawn swift condemnation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He denounced it as “treason” and a “stab in the back.” Initially, charges were filed against Prigozhin, but they were later dropped. Following this, the Wagner chief, known for leading highly skilled troops had reportedly been instrumental in Russian military efforts in Ukraine. He was allowed to retreat to Belarus, occasionally reappearing in Russia.
The crash occurred shortly after Russian media reported the dismissal of a high-ranking general with ties to Prigozhin from his position as the air force commander.
The aircraft, carrying three crew members and seven passengers, was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It went down approximately 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of the Russian capital, according to officials cited by Russia’s state news agency Tass.
Experts Urge Caution Amidst Uncertainty
Flight tracking data revealed that a private jet previously used by Prigozhin took off from Moscow on the fateful evening. Only to have its transponder signal abruptly vanish minutes later. The sudden cessation of the signal, while the plane was at altitude and travelling at speed. It has raised questions about the circumstances of the crash.
In a distressing image shared by a pro-Wagner social media account, burning wreckage was visible. Along with a partial tail number that matched a jet previously associated with Prigozhin.
Videos disseminated by the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone depicted the aircraft plummeting from a large cloud of smoke. Exhibiting erratic, uncontrolled movements as it descended. Such drastic freefalls typically occur when an aircraft sustains severe damage, and a detailed analysis of videos suggested the possibility of an in-flight explosion. Notably, the footage appeared to indicate that the plane had lost a wing.
Experts and observers have urged caution regarding reports of Prigozhin’s demise. Some pointed out that he has been known to use aliases to obscure his movements. Investigations into the crash are ongoing, and the full details surrounding this tragic incident are yet to be revealed.