Russian officials say that Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the passenger list of the ill-fated jet.

Russian officials state that Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner Group leader, was on the doomed jet’s passenger list.


Moscow (AP) – According to Russia’s civil aviation agency, Evgeny Prigozhin, a leader of a mercenary group who had orchestrated a brief armed uprising against the Russian military earlier this year, was aboard a plane that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of all 10 people on board.

The crash immediately raised suspicions, as Wagner’s fate has been a subject of intense speculation since his involvement in the rebellion. At that time, President Vladimir Putin had labeled the rebellion as “treason” and “stab in the back,” vowing retaliation.

However, charges against Prigozhin were soon dropped. Wagner’s leader, whose forces were among the most battle-hardened for Russia in Ukraine, had been allowed to retreat to Belarus, reportedly spending intermittent periods in Russia.

This accident comes in the wake of reports by Russian media that a senior general connected to Prigozhin was dismissed from his position as commander of the Air Force after the incident.

As per the quoted by Russia’s state news agency TASS, a plane carrying three pilots and seven passengers, which was flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, crashed about 185 miles (300 kilometers) north of the capital.

Russia’s civil aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, initially reported that he was on the plane and later stated that, according to the airline, he was actually on the aircraft.

Beforehand, Vladimir Rogov, Russia’s chosen Wagner leader, confirmed Prigozhin attended.

Earlier, Vladimir Rogov, the Russian-appointed official in the partly-occupied Zaporizhia region in Ukraine, had claimed to have talked to Wagner commanders who also confirmed Prigozhin’s presence, along with Dmitry Utkin, whose call sign became the name of the Wagner company.

US President Joe Biden remarked, “I really don’t know what happened, but I’m not surprised.”

Chatham House’s Russia specialist, Keir Giles, urged caution regarding reports about Prigozhin’s death. He claimed that “a number of people have tried to cloud the issue by adopting Evgeny Prigozhin’s name in an effort to conceal his travel.”

We shouldn’t be shocked if he appears in a new video from Africa shortly, Giles continued.

Flight tracking data reviewed by the Associated Press indicated that a private jet previously used by Prigozhin had taken off from Moscow on Wednesday afternoon and its transponder signal was lost a few minutes later.

When the aircraft was at altitude and traveling at speed, the signal suddenly disappeared. A burned-out hull of a jet was shown in an image posted by Wagner supporter Telegram channel Grey Zone, with a partial tail number visible that appeared to match a jet Prigozhin had previously used.

Russia’s investigative committee has launched an inquiry into the crash over suspected violations of aviation safety rules, as is typically the case when they open such investigations.

While Prigozhin’s death is unlikely to have a direct impact on Russia’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where his forces had been engaged in fierce fighting over the past 18 months, his whereabouts had become a subject of speculation after his forces retreated following the capture of the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine at the end of May.

After the uprising, Russian officials had stated that his fighters would return to Ukraine as part of regular military personnel.

This week, Prigozhin posted his first recruitment video after the rebellion, claiming that Wagner was leading reconnaissance and exploration activities and was “making Russia even greater on all continents and making Africa even more independent.”

Also this week, Russian media reported that General Sergei Surovikin had been dismissed as commander of the Russian Air Force, citing anonymous sources. Surovikin, who had previously led Russian operations in Ukraine, has not been publicly seen since he recorded a video appeal to Wagner’s forces to stand down after the rebellion.

Just as the news of the crash was emerging, Putin praised the heroes of the Kurst battle during a commemoration event, taking the opportunity to acknowledge Russian fighters in the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

The incident has further fueled speculation about Prigozhin’s role in various conflicts and his connection to the Russian government. Prigozhin, often referred to as “Putin’s chef” due to his catering business that once served the Russian president, has been linked to a range of controversial activities.

His Wagner Group has been accused of sending mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, Syria, and other conflict zones on behalf of the Russian government. The group’s activities have prompted international condemnation and allegations of human rights abuses.

The crash has also drawn attention to the wider issue of private military companies and their role in modern conflicts. Private military companies like Wagner have raised concerns about accountability, as they often operate in a legal gray area and can carry out military actions with little oversight. Critics argue that their involvement in conflicts can lead to increased violence and instability, as well as potential violations of international law.

The incident has sparked debates about the motivations behind Prigozhin’s activities and the goals of the Wagner Group. Some experts believe that these private military companies serve as proxies for the Russian government, allowing it to pursue its interests in various regions without direct military involvement. Others suggest that Prigozhin and similar actors operate with a profit-driven agenda, seeking to exploit conflicts for financial gain.

The crash has also highlighted the challenges of information warfare and disinformation campaigns. In the aftermath of the crash, conflicting reports and rumors circulated, leading to confusion about the true events.

Disinformation efforts, whether intentional or not, can contribute to the complexity of understanding and responding to such incidents. The incident underscores the importance of reliable and accurate sources of information in a world where misinformation can spread rapidly.

As investigations into the crash continue, the incident serves as a reminder of the complex and interconnected nature of modern conflicts, involving a range of actors with diverse motivations.

It also raises questions about the effectiveness of international mechanisms in addressing the challenges posed by private military companies and their involvement in conflicts. The crash of the jet carrying Prigozhin and the subsequent discussions it has sparked further highlight the evolving landscape of warfare in the 21st century.

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