Russian authorities have confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group that led a mutiny against Russia’s army in June, was on board a plane that crashed outside Moscow.
Russia’s emergency situations ministry said all 10 people on board were killed.
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Here is what we know so far:
What happened and when?
According to authorities, 10 people have died after a private jet crashed north of Moscow,
Around 17:00 GMT, the ministry announced that a “private Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft traveling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg crashed”.
It said that 10 people were on board, including three crew members. According to authorities, eight bodies have been found.
Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport also said it launched a “specially created commission” to investigate the crash.
A Telegram channel believed to be linked to Prigozhin also said that the Wagner leader was dead.
The FlightRadar24 online tracker showed that the Embraer Legacy (plane number RA-02795) had dropped off the radar at 6:11pm (15:11 GMT).
Soon after the plane dropped out of the sky, a second private jet linked to Prigozhin, which also appeared to be heading to St Petersburg, turned back to Moscow and later landed, flight tracking data showed.
Where did the plane crash?
Russia’s emergency situations ministry said that the plane crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region.
Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader listed as a passenger on the plane?
Prigozhin, 62, soared in prominence after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, where his fighters – including thousands of convicts he recruited from prison – led the Russian assault on the city of Bakhmut in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Prigozhin used social media to trumpet Wagner’s successes and wage a feud with Russia’s military establishment, accusing it of incompetence and even treason.
In June, Prigozhin led a mutiny in which Wagner fighters took control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and shot down a number of military helicopters, killing their pilots, as they advanced towards Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin called it an act of treason that would meet with a harsh response.
The revolt was defused in a deal whereby the Kremlin said that in order to avert bloodshed, Prigozhin and some of his fighters would leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him for armed mutiny would be dropped.
Confusion has surrounded the implementation of the deal and the future of Prigozhin.
Born in St Petersburg on June 1, 1961, Prigozhin spent nine years in Soviet prisons for crimes including robbery and fraud. Released in 1990 amid the Soviet Union’s death throes, he launched a career as a caterer and restaurateur in his hometown. He is believed to have met Putin, then a top aide to St Petersburg’s mayor, at this time.
Who else was on the plane?
Russian civil aviation authority said that Dmitry Utkin, Prigozhin’s right-hand man, was also on board and that Prigozhin and his associates had attended a meeting with officials from the Russian defence ministry.
What have been the reactions so far?
Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, on social media platform X reacted to the incident by saying “it was worth waiting for the fog of war to disappear”.
“…It is obvious that Putin does not forgive anyone for his own bestial terror … The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections. ‘Beware! Disloyalty equals death’,” he added.
About Prigozhin: It is worth waiting for the fog of war to disappear… Meanwhile, it is obvious that Putin does not forgive anyone for his own bestial terror. Exactly the one that nullified him in June 2023. And he was waiting for the moment. It is also obvious that Prigozhin…
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) August 23, 2023
US President Joe Biden said he was “not surprised” by reports.
“I don’t know for fact what happened, but I am not surprised,” @POTUS tells reporters when asked about the plane crash as he departed an exercise class in Lake Tahoe, where he is vacationing with his family https://t.co/mAqkq3rlR7
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) August 23, 2023
Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, said to CNN that if true, this was a strong message to detractors.
“If true, it shows Putin will eliminate opponents, and that scares anyone who is thinking of expressing [an] opinion different than his.”
British lawmaker Alicia Kearns, chair of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said Putin was sending a loud message.
“The speed at which the Russian Govt has confirmed Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know. Reports Russian Air Defence shot down the plane suggests Putin is sending a very loud message.”
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau commented on this on the state news channel TVP Info:
“… We would have great trouble naming anyone who would intuitively think this was a coincidence. It so happens that political opponents whom Vladimir Putin considers a threat to his power do not die naturally.”