Wagner/Anadolu Agency Telegram account via Getty Images
MOSCOW — Russian aviation authorities say Wagner Group mercenary leader Eugene Prigojine was on the passenger list of a plane that crashed northwest of Moscow on Wednesday, leaving no survivors. Yet authorities have not directly confirmed Prigozhin’s death or the cause of the accident.
Here’s what we know — and what we don’t know — so far:
Flight tracking data showed the business jet was on a routine flight from Moscow to St Petersburg before suddenly losing altitude just over 30 minutes into its journey. Video from a witness appears to show the plane hurtling towards a field, possibly with one of its wings clipped. Later videos show the plane engulfed in flames. Although not independently confirmed by NPR, the videos appear to match the location of the crash and the plane.
Rescue teams say they later recovered the remains of everyone on board. The crash site, located near the village of Kuzenkhiino in Russia’s Tver region, about 300 kilometers northwest of Moscow, has been cordoned off by police and the remains of the victims are believed to have been taken to a local morgue. The Russian Investigative Committee – a body loyal to the Kremlin with powers close to those of the FBI – has opened a criminal investigation. The aeronautical authorities have launched parallel investigations into the causes of the accident.
Ten people were on board the Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy 600 business jet., According to the Russian aviation authorities, seven passengers and three crew members. Authorities confirm that Prigozhin’s name was among the passengers. The flight manifesto also included high-ranking Wagner lieutenants, including Dmitry Uktin, whose nom de guerre, Wagner, became the name of the mercenary group. Flight logs show that Prigojine had flown in recent months.
Authorities have not released any statement positively identifying the bodies. Neither Prigozhin nor any of the other people listed on the flight manifest have been heard from since the crash.
The accident comes exactly two months after Prigozhin led a failed mutiny against Russian military leaders due to their alleged failures in the war in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin first took to the airwaves to insist that Wagner’s rebels would be punished as traitors.
He and Prigozhin then brokered a deal ending the rebellion in exchange for amnesty and exile for the rebels in neighboring Belarus. The future of Prigozhin and his Wagnerian forces has been a source of intense speculation ever since. Various unconfirmed reports have Prigozhin spotted in Belarus, Africa and Russia itself.
Mourners laid flowers at a makeshift memorial outside Wagner’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities where Wagner’s recruitment was active.
Conspiracy theories raged online about the cause and timing of the crash. Wagner-linked social media claim the attack was carried out by “enemies of Russia”. We don’t know exactly who they are thinking of. Some blamed President Putin or the Russian military; others, Ukraine and the West.
In the hours after the accident, Putin attended a ceremony honoring the troops who fought in Ukraine and made no reference to the incident. More than 24 hours later, the Kremlin leader on Thursday expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the crash. He also noted that members of Wagner would be on board and spoke warmly of his relationship with Prigozhin in the past tense.
The Kremlin leader did not specifically say Prigozhin was on the plane, but promised a full state investigation would be conducted.
President Biden expressed the view of many of Ukraine’s allies that the crash was no accident. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m not surprised,” he said. “Not much happened in Russia without Putin being behind it, but I don’t know enough to answer.”
“It is no coincidence that the whole world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former Putin confidant suddenly falls from the sky two months after attempting a mutiny,” said Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a similar reaction. “Everyone understands who was involved,” he said.
USA News Gb1