Yevgeny V. Prigogine, the leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group that staged a short-lived rebellion against the military elite in June, was listed on the passenger manifest of a private plane that crashed outside Moscow on Wednesday, killing 10 people. Board Russian authorities have not confirmed his death, but at least one Western intelligence official, several Russian military bloggers and a Telegram account linked to his organization said he had been killed.
The flight which listed Mr Prigozhin as a passenger left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for St Petersburg at 6pm local time on Wednesday. It crashed in a forest near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region, less than 100 miles northwest of Moscow.
RIA Novosti, Russia’s state media agency, later that day, posted an unverified video showing a plane that went out of control and fell almost vertically from the sky, trailed by a cloud of pale gray smoke. The shaky video, which appears to have been shot from a cellphone, did not show the plane’s impact.
Video footage shared on the Telegram messaging app shows an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet burning on the ground. Paint and a partial registration number, RA-02795, visible on the plane match a jet used by Mr Prigogine.
Emergency workers were at the crash site on Thursday, and images released by Russian and international media outlets showed parts of the plane with a blue wing or part of the tail fin.
Russia’s aviation authorities did not comment on the cause of the crash and announced that it had formed a special commission to investigate the “circumstances and causes of the accident”.
Who was on board?
The flight’s passenger manifest released by Russian authorities listed 10 people. The seven passengers listed included Mr Prigogine and Dmitri Utkin, Wagner’s top commander. It also enlisted three crew members. Russian aviation authorities said all on board were killed.
Was Mr Prigogine murdered?
Gray Zone, a Telegram account linked to the Wagner Group, reported that Mr Prigogine had died. But there has been no official confirmation of his fate from Wagner or the Russian authorities.
A senior Western intelligence official said Mr Prigogine was on the plane. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments, said the ruling was based on “a number of indicators” that his government assessed. American officials said they could not confirm whether Mr Prigogine was killed in the plane crash or why the jet crashed.
What did the Kremlin say?
There was no comment from the Kremlin on the crash or the fate of Mr Prigogine. In his only public comments since Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin delivered brief remarks via video link at a BRICS summit in South Africa on Thursday. He made no mention of recent events in Russia or Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov did not comment on the crash at a press conference in Johannesburg.
Who is Mr Prigogine?
Released from prison during the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Prigogine began his post-crime career selling hot dogs on street corners in St. Petersburg. There, he befriended Mr. Putin, then a minor official in the city government.
Mr Prigozhin made a fortune in the catering business, benefiting from his continued friendship with Mr Putin, even earning the nickname “Putin’s Chef” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin and the Russian military.
From there, Mr. Prigogine’s benefactors entrusted him with more important tasks that were best handled from the Kremlin. He went on to create the private military force Wagner, which played a special role in the war in Ukraine, particularly the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut, perhaps the bloodiest of the war. Wagner’s forces have also fought in Syria and Libya, and have played an important paramilitary role supporting governments in African countries including Mali and the Central African Republic, and have earned a reputation for brutality.
After months of increasingly caustic criticism of the Russian military leadership’s operations in Ukraine, Mr Prigozhin led a short-lived uprising against the top brass in June. The brief uprising, the most dramatic and public challenge to Mr. Putin’s rule in decades, was defused, an agreement to end hostilities was announced by the Kremlin, and Wagner’s forces were allowed to either sign up with the Russian military or move to Belarus. Close Russian ally.
Since then Mr Prigogine, who had previously maintained a highly visible presence on social media, remained silent until he re-emerged in a video recruiting Wagner a few days before the plane crash.