Friday, 23 Feb 2024

What to Know About the Plane Crash Linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group that staged a short-lived mutiny against the military top brass in June, was listed on the passenger manifest of a private plane that crashed outside Moscow on Wednesday, killing all 10 people on board. The Russian authorities have not confirmed his death.

One day after the crash, here’s what to know.

What happened?

The plane that listed Mr. Prigozhin as a passenger left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Wednesday at about 6 p.m. local time, bound for St. Petersburg. It crashed in a wooded area near the village of Kuzhenkino, in Tver region, less than 100 miles northwest of Moscow.

RIA Novosti, the Russian state media agency, later that day posted an unconfirmed video that appeared to show a plane that was out of control and falling 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 appeared to show the aircraft, an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet, burning on the ground. The paint and a partial registration number, RA-02795, visible on the aircraft match a jet that Mr. Prigozhin is known to use.

Emergency workers were at the crash site on Thursday, and photographs published by Russian and international media showed parts of the plane, including a section of a blue wing or tail fin.

Russia’s aviation authority offered no comment on the reason for the crash, and announced that it had created 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 on board. The seven passengers listed included Mr. Prighozin and Wagner’s top commander, Dmitri Utkin. It also listed three crew members. Russia’s aviation authorities said that everyone on board had been killed.

Was Mr. Prigozhin killed?

Grey Zone, a Telegram account associated with the Wagner group, said that Mr. Prighozin was dead. But there has been no official confirmation of his fate from Wagner or the Russian authorities.

A senior Western intelligence official said that Prigozhin was on board the plane that crashed. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments, said the judgment was based on “many indicators” that his government had evaluated. American officials said they could not confirm Mr. Prigozhin had been killed in the plane crash, or why the jet went down.

What has the Kremlin said?

There has been no comment from the Kremlin on the crash or on Mr. Prigozhin’s fate. In his only public comments since Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia delivered brief remarks by video link to a summit of BRICS nations taking place in South Africa on Thursday. He made no mention of the latest events in Russia or Ukraine.

Who is Mr. Prigozhin?

Emerging from jail as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Mr. Prigozhin began his post-criminal career selling hot dogs on street corners in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, he befriended Mr. Putin, who was then a minor official in the city government.

Mr. Prighozin went on to make a fortune in the catering business, benefiting from his ongoing friendship with Mr. Putin, even earning the nickname “Putin’s chef” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin and Russian military.

From there, Mr. Prigozhin’s benefactor assigned him a number of more important tasks that were best handled at arm’s length from the Kremlin. He went on to build the private military force Wagner, which played a key role in fighting in Ukraine, particularly in the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut, perhaps the bloodiest of the war. Wagner forces also fought in Syria and Libya, and played a key paramilitary role supporting governments in African countries including Mali and the Central African Republic, and gaining a reputation for brutality.

After months of increasingly caustic criticism of the Russian military leadership’s campaign in Ukraine, Mr. Prighozhin led a short-lived revolt against the top brass in June. The brief mutiny, the most dramatic and public challenge to Mr. Putin’s rule in decades, was defused, a deal was announced by the Kremlin to end hostilities, and Wagner forces were allowed to either sign up with the Russian military or move to Belarus, a close Russian ally.

Since then Mr. Prighozin, who had previously maintained a highly visible presence on social media, had largely gone silent until he re-emerged in what appeared to be a Wagner recruitment video days before the plane crash.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg is a correspondent covering international news. He previously worked as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for Reuters and did postings in Nairobi, Abidjan, Atlanta, Jakarta and Accra. More about Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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