Wagner chief Prigozhin could have died in a airplane crash. Right here’s what we all know.


Replace, August 27, 1:15pm: Russian authorities stated Sunday that genetic checks verify that Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was amongst those that died in a airplane crash earlier this week. The unique story, final up to date Thursday, August 24, is beneath.

Two months in the past, Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin led his militia in a mutiny towards the Russian regime. Now, Prigozhin is believed to have been concerned in a deadly airplane crash, Russian state media has reported.

Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a non-public airplane that crashed north of Moscow Wednesday, killing all 10 passengers aboard, in line with media experiences. Russian authorities haven’t formally confirmed the paramilitary chief’s loss of life, however some Telegram channels linked to the Wagner Group have stated that he was killed. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided condolences to victims of the airplane crash, describing Prigozhin as a person with a “tough destiny.”

If Prigozhin is formally confirmed among the many crash fatalities, it might be a dramatic — however not altogether shocking — growth. In June, Prigozhin led his militia on a fast march towards Moscow, a brazen problem to Putin’s regime. Prigozhin abruptly halted his revolt earlier than reaching the capital, and the Kremlin later stated Prigozhin had accepted a deal — apparently brokered by Belarus — to enter exile in Belarus.

Few thought Prigozhin was about to get pleasure from a calming retirement in Minsk — or anyplace else, for that matter. As one Wagner watcher advised Vox months earlier than Prigozhin’s short-lived coup: “He is aware of that if the present regime or if his Wagner Group goes down, he goes down with them.”

What we learn about Prigozhin and the airplane crash

An Embraer jet en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg went down close to town of Tver on Wednesday. Movies circulating on social media confirmed a picture of a airplane plummeting from the sky; one other appeared to indicate the wreckage ablaze.

Russian media has reported that every one 10 our bodies have now been recovered from the crash and that the airplane carried three pilots and 7 passengers. Russia’s aviation authorities have stated they’re “investigating the circumstances and causes of the accident,” in line with the New York Occasions, and are at the moment testing the passengers’ stays.

Prigozhin was on the passenger manifest, although it’s nonetheless unconfirmed whether or not he was really on the flight. Some Telegram channels, together with these tied to Wagner Group, have begun to put up that Prigozhin has died. The Wagner-affiliated account, Gray Zone, indicated Wednesday that Prigozhin, a “true patriot of the Motherland,” had “died because of the actions of traitors to Russia.”

“However even in Hell he would be the greatest! Glory to Russia!” the Telegram put up learn, in line with experiences.

Different people with Wagner ties have been additionally reportedly listed on the flight manifest, however their deaths are additionally not but formally confirmed. Amongst them is Dmitry Utkin, who is typically cited because the operational chief or co-founder of the Wagner Group, though the proof of that may be a bit murky.

Utkin is reportedly a former commander for the particular forces of the GRU, Russia’s navy intelligence service. Because the story goes, he had a factor for the Third Reich and used “Wagner” as a nom de guerre. Nonetheless, some researchers imagine that Utkin is extra probably a straw man, serving to to disguise a few of the paramilitary’s extra direct ties to the Russian state. Any individual who could also be Utkin seems to have labored for Wagner, however he could not have really been in cost, or a founding determine.

Utkin’s identify on the passenger record, alongside Prigozhin’s, hints on the chance that this was an effort to purge recognized Wagner associates within the wake of the mutiny.

Quite a bit stays unknown. Russian authorities and state media stay the first sources on this crash proper now — entities not precisely recognized for his or her transparency. Putin lastly addressed the crash late Thursday, providing condolences to the victims, whom he indicated have been Wagner Group workers. Putin referred to as Prigozhin a gifted businessman who “made critical errors in life.”

“He achieved the outcomes wanted each for himself and once I requested him about it — for a standard trigger, as in these final months,” Putin reportedly stated.

At the least one Western intelligence official confirmed Prigozhin’s loss of life to the New York Occasions on Thursday. Some US and Western intelligence officers have now stated they imagine an explosion probably took down the airplane, however that isn’t a agency conclusion simply but.

White Home Nationwide Safety Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated in a assertion Wednesday that the administration had seen the experiences. “If confirmed, nobody ought to be stunned. The disastrous battle in Ukraine led to a non-public military marching on Moscow, and now — it might appear — to this.”

Prigozhin’s rise up challenged Putin, and Putin doesn’t usually let his enemies stick round

Often called “Putin’s chef,” Prigozhin had lengthy been one thing of a fixer for Putin’s regime. He rose from the prison underworld in post-Soviet Russia, and that all the time made him a little bit of an outsider amongst Russia’s elites. He wasn’t precisely in Putin’s internal circle, however he had the talents and connections to make himself helpful and wanted.

The identical was true in his position as the top of the Wagner Group, a sort-of-private military that carried out the geopolitical goals of the Russian state, particularly in locations like Africa and the Center East. Previously yr, Wagner had been a few of the more practical Russian fighters in Ukraine, ultimately taking the jap metropolis of Bakhmut in a bloody, grinding, months-long battle. It was certainly one of Russia’s uncommon victories from its winter counteroffensive, and Prigozhin had used his clout to accentuate his criticism of Russia’s high navy brass, posting scathing movies accusing generals of denying Wagner the ammunition and help wanted to battle successfully.

Prigozhin’s assaults have been so daring that Putin lastly appeared to lose persistence, and Russia put out a directive that the Russian navy would formally combine Wagner fighters by July. Prigozhin claimed he wished to keep away from that, and that no less than partially motivated his rise up.

That revolt lasted about 24 hours, with Wagner fighters seizing navy installations in Russia’s south and marching on Moscow. Then, simply as abruptly, Prigozhin halted that motion, saying he didn’t want to shed Russian blood. The Kremlin later stated a deal had been reached whereby Prigozhin would keep away from prosecution in alternate for going into exile in Belarus, and Wagner fighters might both be a part of him or enlist with the Russian military.

Putin just about tried to return to enterprise as regular within the wake of Prigozhin’s mutiny, albeit with much more public appearances. Prigozhin has not been broadly seen in public since his June rise up, with solely imprecise or sketchy experiences of his whereabouts. That features a assertion from the Kremlin in July that claimed that Putin met with Prigozhin shortly after the rise up, no less than one video that appeared like Prigozhin’s voice greeting Wagner recruits in Belarus, and a photograph posted in July apparently taken in St. Petersburg with an official from the Central African Republic.

However he did appear to be getting round, and simply this week, an individual who seemed to be Prigozhin spoke in a brief video clip about Wagner’s operations in Africa — although the date and actual location of the video have been unconfirmed. It was his first video since his rise up, posted about two days earlier than Wednesday’s airplane crash.

That provides to the considerably auspicious timing for this airplane crash, as does the reported elimination of Gen. Sergei Surovikin from his place as Russian aerospace commander. Surovikin, a high Russian navy chief, was seen as a Prigozhin ally, and US intelligence reportedly had proof that Surovikin might need had advance information of the Wagner rise up. Surovikin hadn’t been seen for the reason that mutiny, and a few experiences had instructed he had been detained within the rise up’s aftermath.

Surovikin’s obvious elimination and Prigozhin’s potential demise all appear to recommend that Putin could also be purging what he sees as potential threats to his energy. Prigozhin’s place was all the time dependent to a level on Putin’s largesse, and staging a mutiny towards the president put him, fairly unequivocally, in an awfully precarious state. Prigozhin has all the time maintained that his revolt was not a coup try, however his rise up made it have a look at least attainable that Putin could possibly be overthrown, undermining his picture as an infallible strongman.

Which all the time meant the concept Putin would let Prigozhin — or any of his Wagner fighters — casually reconstitute in Belarus was very, not possible. Putin has been recognized to pursue his perceived enemies at house and overseas for a lot lower than an armed rise up. Putin’s critics have been poisoned, together with opposition chief Alexei Navalny. Opponents have fallen out of home windows. Russia has additionally been suspected in airplane crash assassination plots: Polish authorities allege the Kremlin was chargeable for the crash that killed Poland’s president in 2010. And it’s most likely additionally price mentioning Russia’s position in downing a civilian jet over Ukraine in 2014.

Even when Prigozhin suffered the identical destiny as different Putin foes, it’s nonetheless unsure what it means for the Russian regime. Putin can’t totally undo the situations that led to Prigozhin’s mutiny. Russia remains to be going through setbacks in Ukraine, and Prigozhin’s criticisms of the Russian navy have discovered continued buy among the many nationalistic proper in Russia. Russian authorities have quietly begun to crack down on some right-wing navy bloggers in latest weeks, a sign {that a} post-rebellion purge of Putin’s perceived enemies was already underway.

The world has seen various twists within the varied plots which have emerged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Prigozhin’s attainable demise could but be one other one. Prigozhin himself was a grasp of misinformation, utilizing propaganda as a part of Wagner’s portfolio and past. He has some incentives to make himself disappear, too.

However no matter occurred with this crash — and whether or not or not Prigozhin actually was on the jet and died in it — Prigozhin was probably by no means going to be the exception to the rule in Putin’s Russia.

Replace, August 24, 1:30 pm ET: This put up was initially printed on August 23 and has been up to date a number of instances, most lately to incorporate Putin’s feedback on the crash and knowledge from Western intelligence officers.