Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. Screenshot: TV Rain

Moscow, 23 August 2023


Wagner chief Prigozhin listed as passenger on plane that crashed with no survivors, authorities say

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet which crashed on Wednesday evening north of Moscow with no survivors, the Russian authorities said.

There was no confirmation that Prigozhin was physically on board and Reuters could not immediately confirm that he was on the aircraft.

“An investigation has been launched into an Embraer plane crash that occurred tonight in the Tver region. According to the passenger list, the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin is among them,” Rosaviatsia, Russia’s aviation agency, was cited as saying by the state TASS news agency.

Russia’s emergency situations ministry said in a statement that the aircraft travelling from Moscow to St. Petersburg had crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region.

It said that 10 people had been on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, everyone on board had been killed, it said.

Prigozhin, 62, spearheaded a mutinyagainst Russia’s top army brass on June 23-24 which President Vladimir Putin said could have tipped Russia into civil war.

The mutiny was ended by negotiations and an apparent Kremlin deal which saw Prigozhin agree to relocate to neighbouring Belarus. But he had appeared to move freely inside Russia after the deal nonetheless.

Prigozhin, who had sought to topple Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, on Monday posted a video address which he suggested was taken in Africa.

Unconfirmed Russian media reports said that Dmitry Utkin, Prigozhin’s right-hand man, was also on board and that Prigozhin and his associates had attended a meeting with officials from the Russian Defence Ministry.

Reuters could not confirm that and there was no immediate comment from the defence ministry or the Kremlin.

Soon after the plane dropped out of the sky, a second private jet linked to Prigozhin which also appeared to be heading to St Petersburg, Prigozhin’s home base, turned back to Moscow, flight tracking data showed, and later landed.

The flight radar 24 online tracker showed that the Embraer Legacy 600 (plane number RA-02795) had dropped off the radar at 6:11 p.m. time. An unverified video clip posted to social media showed a plane resembling a private jet falling out of the sky towards the earth.

Another unverified clip showed the still burning wreckage of the plane on the ground. At least one body was visible.

Source – Reuters

Wagner boss Prigozhin believed killed in jet crash in Russia

Exactly two months after his failed coup, Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin is believed to have died on Wednesday after his private jet crashed in flames on an internal flight within Russia.

Speculation is rife that Russian President Vladimir Putin — who is notoriously unforgiving of traitors and accused Prigozhin of “treason” in June — ordered the downing of the aircraft. It comes only a day after Russian media announced the firing of Sergei Surovikin, the former commander of Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, who has not been seen in public since the aborted Wagner coup.

A former loyalist who was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his role as a catering executive supplying the Kremlin, Prigozhin became embittered toward the Russian government’s handling of the war. In late June, his uprising commanded 24-hour global coverage after he seized the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and ordered a column of troops toward Moscow.

Putin himself appeared cheery on Wednesday evening, opening remarks at an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk in World War II with a broad smile.

“Devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the military oath is what unites all participants of the special military operation,” he said in his speech, referring to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Since the coup, Putin and Prigozhin appeared to have reached an uneasy truce until the crash. On Wednesday, Russia’s investigative committee said it had opened a criminal investigation into the loss of a business jet en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg that crashed in the Tver region, with the loss of 10 people on board.

Russia’s aviation regulator, Rosaviatsii, also issued a statement confirming an investigation.

“According to the list of passengers, the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin is among them,” the agency said.

Wagner Orchestra, a Telegram channel, posted a photo of what appeared to be the burning wreckage of a plane, saying the Embraer Legacy 600 had been shot down by Russian air defenses.

The well-connected Russian Telegram channel VChK-OGPU reported that Dmitry Utkin, a central Wagner figure and its alleged founder, was also among the plane’s passengers. “Wagner has been decapitated,” thechannelcommented.

Russia’s ‘open windows’ policy

Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov tried to flip the blame onto Ukraine.

“Prigozhin is dead. No one believes that this is an accident,” he said on hisTelegramchannel. In a separate post, hinting at how Kremlin spin doctors might frame the plane crash in the hours and days to come, Markov said the “murder of Prigozhin and Utkin … is probably a terrorist attack by Ukraine ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day.”

“All enemies of Russia are already rejoicing. The murder of Prigozhin is Ukraine’s main achievement this year,” Markov wrote.

U.S. officials have been expecting Prigozhin’s demise given Putin’s history of dispensing with opponents. It has even been the source of some gallows humor.

In July, at the Aspen Security Forum, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said:

“If I were Mr. Prigozhin, I would remain very concerned. NATO has an open-door policy; Russia has an open-windows policy.”

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said:

“We have seen the reports. If confirmed, no one should be surprised. The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now — it would seem — to this.”

Senate Intel Chair Mark Warner said:

“No one should mourn Prigozhin’s death, but this report, if confirmed, is another reminder of the brutality of the Putin regime, and why we must continue our support for Ukraine in its fight for freedom.”

“If the news are confirmed, I would say it was always difficult to grasp Prigozhin could have believed he could survive after the June coup,” said a senior diplomat from Central Europe, who was grantedanonymity to speak candidly. “Now, we do not know details, but this looks like most likely an obvious message from the regime, that anybody who challenges it, has to be eliminated.”

“What will be the consequences to the Wagner Group is to be seen, but most likely, under this brand or another, it will remain an instrument of the Kremlin.”

A second senior diplomat from Central Europe said:

“I guess Prighozin was somewhat ‘in the air’ since the botched coup attempt, his chances for survival were minuscule. After the literal plane crash Putin is stronger in Moscow, Prighozin ‘deader’ north of Moscow.”

A diplomat from Western Europe, also grantedanonymity to speak candidly, said:

“I guess most of us shared the view that up to this point he was a dead man walking. Unlikely we’ll get the true cause of this crash. But we may add this to the list of unexplained deaths among those who somehow undermine Putin’s authority.”

Anniversary of uprising

The plane crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin, 62, launched his uprising. He led his mercenaries in an overnight raid, capturing the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don before breakfast time without a shot being fired.

Another detachment of Wagner men rolled northwards, coming to within 200km of Moscow by late afternoon — before Prigozhin abruptly ordered his men back to base.

The rebel warlord invoked the wrath of Putin, who on the morning of the uprising took to the national airwaves to denounce it as astab in the back. And, although acompromise dealwas brokered by Aleksander Lukashenko of Belarus to allow Prigozhin’s men to relocate to that country, the Wagner chief already appeared a marked man.

He disappeared for a time before appearing in a grainynight-time videoaddressing his men at a new base in Belarus,popped upon the sidelines of an Africa summit hosted by Putin in Saint Petersburg, and, only this week, appeared in avideoapparently shot in Africa saying his mercenaries were enjoying the 50-degree heat.

Prigozhin started out as a small-time crook in Saint Petersburg where he spent several years in prison for robbery, theft and fraud. On emerging from jail, he opened a hot dog stand with his mother and, as he built up a restaurant business, fell in with Putin, who at the time was deputy mayor of Russia’s northern capital.

Prigozhin’s Concord catering business went on to win a string of government contracts — including to supply rations to the military. Gaining standing in Putin’s clannish network of influence and patronage, Prigozhin established theWagner mercenary groupat the time of Russia’s partial occupation of Ukraine in 2014. He onlypublicly admittedto leading Wagner last September, however, months after Putin’s full-scale invasion.

Soon after, he established himself as one of the most high-profile leaders of Russia’s war on Ukraine — touring prisons to recruit convicts and throwing his men into a successful but bloody attack on Bakhmut that delivered the only major battlefield victory of Russia’s winter offensive in Eastern Ukraine.

“A caterer should know that revenge is a dish best served cold,” said a U.S. official familiar with Russia policy.

Infuriated by a lack of logistical backup, Prigozhin soon fell out with Russia’s high command and defense ministry. He took to posting profanity-laden video rants on Telegram, the social media network widely followed in Russia.

In one, he stood before rows of dead Wagner men at night time, yelling “where’s the fucking ammunition?” at Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff. Prigozhin’s rants left him looking dangerously isolated, as Putin stuck with his loyal, if incompetent, military leadership.


Private jet crashes in Russia with Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’

Doha, 23 August 2023

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that led a mutiny against Russia’s army in June, was on the list of passengers of a plane that has crashed in Russia.

“The plane that crashed in the Tver Region listed Yevgeny Prigozhin among its passengers, [Russia’s aviation agency] Rosaviatsia said,” Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, with RIA Novosti and Interfax issuing similar reports.

However, it was not immediately clear if he had boarded the flight.

“There were 10 people on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, all those on board died,” Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations said shortly before.

The Embraer aircraft, en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, was carrying seven passengers and three crew, TASS reported on Wednesday.

About 17:00 GMT, the ministry announced that a “private Embraer Legacy aircraft travelling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region”. It said it was conducting search operations.

Daniel Hawkins, a journalist in Moscow, told Al Jazeera that “reports in the Russian media, unconfirmed so far, are saying this aircraft could have been taken down by air defence systems”.

“Prigozhin was among those on board or was at least listed as among those people on board.

“Some journalists report they’re in touch with his press secretary who is refusing to confirm that. A second jet was also in the air that’s turned around and gone back to St Petersburg.”

Prigozhin led a short-lived armed rebellion against the Russian leadership in June, posing the gravest challenge ever to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade grip on power.

Prigozhin had his mercenaries occupy the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and then sent military columns marching towards Moscow.

He called the Russian military leadership corrupt and incompetent. He had complained for months of inadequate munitions supplies for his fighters serving on the front lines of Putin’s war in Ukraine.

At the time, Putin described the revolt as “treason”.

But shortly before his troops reached Moscow, Prigozhin ordered a retreat after negotiations with the Kremlin, in which Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko acted as mediator.

As part of the deal reached to escape prosecution, Prigozhin and his Wagner fighters were offered sanctuary in Belarus.

Experts are still being cautious about whether Prigozhin was on the plane that crashed. But some have said that regardless of the outcome, Prigozhin has been a marked man.

“We don’t know all the details yet, but if it turns out that it is what it seems to be, it’s absolutely no coincidence,” said Colin Clarke of the Soufan Group, speaking to Al Jazeera from Pittsburgh in the United States.

“Ever since the mutiny in late June, in which he embarrassed [Russian President] Putin, he’s been a marked man. Many were surprised it [his killing] didn’t happen instantly, but this is something that everybody thought was inevitable.”

More to follow.

Source – Al Jazeera


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