- Plane crash north of Moscow
- Authorities say Wagner’s chief Prigozhin was on board and there are no survivors
- The Telegram channel linked to Wagner says Prigozhin is dead
- He led a mutiny against senior army officers in June
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s most powerful mercenary, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was on board a plane that crashed Wednesday night north of Moscow without survivors, two months to the day he led a failed mutiny against the army, Russian authorities said. copper top.
There was no official comment from the Kremlin or the Defense Ministry on the fate of Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group of mercenaries who declared himself an enemy of the army leadership over what it said was an incompetent prosecution of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
However, a channel on the Telegram application linked to Wagner, Gray Zone, announced his death, praising him and calling him a hero and a patriot who it said died at the hands of unknown people it described as “traitors to Russia”.
Amid frantic speculation and a lack of verifiable facts, some of his supporters pointed the finger at the Russian state, and others at Ukraine, which was due to celebrate its independence day on Thursday.
Others who opposed President Vladimir Putin or his interests have died in unclear circumstances or came close to death, including political leaders and outspoken journalists.
One of the buildings housing Wagner’s offices in St. Petersburg lit up its windows after dark in such a way as to show a giant cross in a sign of respect and mourning. Flowers were left and candles lit near the offices early Thursday.
Prigozhin’s death would leave the Wagner Group, which infuriated Putin in June by staging a failed armed revolt against senior military officers, leaderless and raise questions about its future operations in Africa and elsewhere.
Whoever or whatever was responsible for the accident, his death would also rid Putin of the person who has posed the most serious challenge to the Russian leader’s authority since he came to power in 1999.
The Brazilian Embraer (EMBR3.SA) Legacy 600 business jet has only recorded one crash in its more than 20 years of service, according to International Aviation HQ, and it wasn’t due to mechanical failure.
A 2008 Brazilian Air Force report blamed American pilots, air traffic controllers and a communications glitch for the mid-air collision, while the pilots’ lawyer said individual air traffic controllers and defects in the Brazilian air traffic control system were to blame.
Embraer said it had complied with international sanctions imposed on Russia and had not provided maintenance on the plane since 2019.
The plane showed no sign of trouble until it fell hard in the last 30 seconds, according to flight tracking data.
A Wagner co-founder is also on board
Russia’s aviation agency Rosavyatsia released the names of all 10 people on board the downed plane, including Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, his right-hand man who helped found the mercenary group and bore the call sign “Wagner”.
Russian investigators said they had opened a criminal investigation. Some unnamed sources told Russian media that they believe the plane was shot down by one or more surface-to-air missiles. Reuters was unable to confirm this.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry said the plane, which was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, crashed near the village of Kozkino in the Tver region.
Abbas Galliamov, a former Putin speechwriter-turned-critic who has been dubbed a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities, suggested the Russian leader, who is expected to run for another term in office next year, was behind the incident and consolidated his power in 2018. the operation.
“The establishment is now convinced that it will not be possible to oppose Putin,” Galliamov wrote on Telegram. “Putin is strong enough and capable of revenge.”
Bill Browder, a businessman with years of experience in Russia and another critic of the Kremlin, agrees.
“Putin never forgives or forgets,” Browder wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “He looked like a weak and offended person as Prigozhin wanders carelessly in the world (after the rebellion). This will consolidate his power.”
On a visit to California, US President Joe Biden told reporters he did not know what had happened.
“But I’m not surprised,” Biden said. “Not much happens in Russia without Putin getting behind it.”
The second plane is attached to Prigozhin
Flightradar24 tracking website showed that the Embraer (registration number RA-02795) carrying Prigozhin disappeared from radar at 6:11 p.m. (1511 GMT). An unverified video, posted on social media, showed a plane resembling a private jet falling from the sky.
Another unverified clip showed the plane’s burning wreckage on the ground. At least one body has surfaced. TASS reported that rescuers recovered seven bodies from the scene.
Shortly after the crash, a second private plane linked to Prigozhin, which appeared to also be bound for St. Petersburg, Prigozhin’s home base, turned back to Moscow, flight tracking data showed, and later landed.
Prigozhin, 62, led the rebellion against top Russian military commanders on June 23-24 that Putin said could have pushed Russia into civil war. Wagner fighters shot down Russian attack helicopters during the revolution, killing an unconfirmed number of pilots, angering the military.
He also spent months criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, and tried to overthrow Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Many Russians wondered how he had managed to get away with such brazen criticism without consequences.
The rebellion was brought to an end by an apparent Kremlin deal that saw Prigozhin agree to move to neighboring Belarus. But in practice he appeared to be moving freely within Russia after the agreement reportedly guaranteed his personal safety.
Prigozhin posted a caption with the video on Monday, noting that it was made in Africa. He attended the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg in July.
According to unconfirmed Russian media reports, Prigozhin and his associates attended a meeting on Wednesday with officials from the Russian Defense Ministry. Reuters was unable to confirm this.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborne, Max Rodionov and Mark Trevelyan; Reporting by Mohamed for The Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Andrew Osborne. Editing by Grant McCall and Cynthia Osterman
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