Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the private military company Wagner, along with top officers, was presumed dead in a plane crash. Raising questions about the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In a tragic turn of events, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the enigmatic figure at the helm of the private military company Wagner, and six high-ranking officers were presumed dead following a plane crash shortly after takeoff from Moscow. The crash occurred just two months after Prigozhin and his associates staged a mutiny that left a lasting mark on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority.
Russia’s civil aviation agency confirmed the crash and the recovery of all ten bodies. It included a crew of three. Russian media outlets, citing sources within Prigozhin’s Wagner company, also confirmed his death. The circumstances surrounding the crash, however, have ignited speculation and allegations.
Assassination Suspicions and International Reactions
The global community, including U.S. President Joe Biden, had long anticipated that Putin might take action against Prigozhin. Despite earlier promises to drop charges related to the June 23-24 mutiny. President Biden commented, “I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised. There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.”
Supporters of Prigozhin raised allegations on pro-Wagner messaging apps that the plane was intentionally downed. However, these claims remained unverified. Russia has seen numerous instances of opponents and critics of Putin meeting untimely ends in apparent assassination attempts.
Speaking to Latvian television, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Director Janis Sarts suggested that “the downing of the plane was certainly no mere coincidence.”
Curiously, the plane crash coincided with reports from Russian media that Gen. Sergei Surovikin, a former top commander in Ukraine reportedly linked to Prigozhin. He had been dismissed from his post as commander of Russia’s air force. Surovikin had not been seen in public since the mutiny when he recorded a video address urging Prigozhin’s forces to withdraw.
Investigations and Reactions
Following the crash, investigators cordoned off the field where the plane went down as they began their examination of the site. The charred remains of the victims were reportedly transported for forensic examination.
At Wagner’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, a symbolic display of lights in the shape of a cross appeared. Prigozhin’s supporters paid tribute to him by bringing flowers to the building.
While numerous theories abound, most observers view Prigozhin’s death as a form of retribution by the Kremlin. For what was seen as the most significant challenge to Putin’s 23-year rule. Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, remarked on Telegram that “no matter what caused the plane crash. Everyone will see it as an act of vengeance and retribution” by the Kremlin. She further noted that “from Putin’s point of view, as well as the security forces and the military, Prigozhin’s death must be a lesson to any potential followers.” The circumstances surrounding Prigozhin’s demise will undoubtedly continue to be a subject of intense scrutiny and debate.