Yevgeny Prighozin, the embattled merc-boss who appeared to lead his Wagner Group in a soft coup against Vladimir Putin in June, is reportedly dead after his plane crashed near Moscow, reports the Associated Press (AP.)
Russia’s civil aviation agency Rosaviatsia said Prigozhin was on the plane that crashed, along with 10 others including fellow Wagner officers, according to AP.
The Moscow location of the crash is significant considering Prigozhin was supposed to be banished to Belarus according to the terms of a deal negotiated between Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin following Prigozhin’s failed uprising.
Though Rosaviatsia signaled Prigozhin was on the plane, there has been no official confirmation of Prighozin’s death from Russian authorities. Vladimir Putin, who spoke virtually to the BRICS summit following the crash, did not mention his betrayers fiery fate.
It’s difficult to know for sure it was indeed Prigozhin onboard the aircraft, Russian authorities specified Prigozhin was on the flight manifest rather than outright saying he was on the plane, further adding to the confusion. Russia has vowed to DNA test all 10 bodies recovered in the crash, according to Russian policy expert/think-tank fellow Keir Giles.
Giles also noted that a number of people in Russia changed their name to Yevgeny Prighozin following his rebellion in order to keep his exact whereabouts unknown.
A jet that Prigozhin had previously been known to use did take off from Moscow headed for St. Petersburg and its transponder signal disappeared shortly after, per AP.
Residents near the crash site reported hearing two loud bangs “characteristic of air defense, and this is confirmed by contrails in the sky,” said pro-Wagner Telegram channel The Gray Zone. They also posted a series of videos of what appears to be the crash.
Though Putin would be the top suspect of Prighozin’s death (he called his rebellion a stab in the back) he certainly wouldn’t be the only one, notes geopolitical strategist and best selling author Peter Zeihan “His death is not a low probability outcome considering his life choices and the people he surrounded himself with,” said Zeihan.
Aside from Putin, Prigozhin had made enemies in the Russian military, in Ukraine where his Bakmhut offensive marked the bloodiest battle of the war, and in Poland, whose border he made into his basecamp following his Russian expulsion, according to Zeihan.
U.S. President commented after being briefed on the crash while vacationing in Nevada, saying “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m not surprised. There’s not much going on in Russia that doesn’t have Putin behind it.”
It’s worth noting that if the “Prigozhin” on board doesn’t turn out to be the Wagner boss, it wouldn’t be the first time reports of his death were circulated. In 2019 rumors spread online that he had died after his jet crashed over the Democratic Republic of the Congo.