According to Russian officials, an aircraft carrying notorious warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner group launched a failed insurrection in June, crashed on a flight from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.
According to state newswire RIA Novosti, all ten individuals on board the plane, including three crew members, died in the crash. Russian officials said that a man with Prigozhin’s name was among the passengers, without elaborating further.
If confirmed, Prigozhin’s death would put an end to the warlord’s soaring career over a year and a half into President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and two months after he led his paramilitary force on a historic, failed march on Moscow.
A post by Grey Zone, a Wagner-connected social media channel, claimed that Russian anti-aircraft defences had shot down the plane in the Tver region near the village of Kuzhenkino.
It said that residents heard “two bursts of characteristic air defence fire” before the fall of the plane, “and this is confirmed by inversion traces in the sky in one of the videos”, it said, adding that the information was preliminary.
UPDATE: There are reports that the head of Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the business plane that crashed today in Russia.
10 people are reportedly dead. It belonged to Prigozhin and Russian media is reporting that he was on the plane.
Wagner sources claim that… pic.twitter.com/RJZWhn1mcF
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) August 23, 2023
Locals had heard two huge explosions before the collision, according to Mash, a news site on the social networking platform Telegram.
Prigozhin, a former Kremlin caterer known as “Putin’s chef,” rose to become one of the most prominent commanders of Russia’s war effort before turning on the military leadership and launching a coup against them in late June.
Despite the fact that Wagner’s men practically took control of two major cities in southern Russia, killing at least 13 soldiers and downing two helicopters and a plane on its way to Moscow, Putin appeared to forgive them.
Wagner agreed to go into exile in neighbouring Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, arranged the truce.
Last month, Prigozhin stated that Wagner’s forces would eventually be redeployed.
Although Prigozhin appeared to have been reintegrated into the Russian security establishment, American officials had said they expected that he was likely to face retribution.
“Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold,” William Burns, CIA director, said while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last month. “In my experience Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback so I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution for this.”
According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, the aircraft was an Embraer Legacy that Prigozhin had often used to go around Russia and as far away as Africa.
It was at 28,000 feet and travelling at a ground speed of 513 knots when it last communicated its location.
The flight path looks to match the aircraft’s typical route to St. Petersburg, which it last took on July 6.
The plane was shown fast descending from the sky, accompanied by a plume mimicking bullets fired from anti-aircraft defences, before crashing to the ground in a ball of flame in video provided on social media with ties to Russian security agencies.
However, Mash also reported that security services were investigating the possibility of a “terrorist attack on board” as another potential cause of the blast.