Yevgeny Prigozhin, the enigmatic founder of the Wagner Group, found himself aboard a fateful business jet that tragically crashed in Russia on Wednesday. According to reports from Wagner-linked sources and Russian aviation authorities, Prigozhin was among the passengers on the flight. This ill-fated journey claimed the lives of all 10 individuals on board, including Prigozhin and three crew members. Initial investigations yielded eight bodies at the crash site, as confirmed by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Rosaviatsia, Russia’s aviation agency, officially stated that Yevgeny Prigozhin was a passenger on the Embraer-135 aircraft. Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner’s operations, was also reported to be traveling with Prigozhin on the plane. The Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel Grey Zone paid tribute to Prigozhin, referring to him as a hero and a patriot, and claimed he met his demise at the hands of unidentified individuals deemed “traitors to Russia.”
The crash, occurring in the Tver region while the jet was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, raises suspicions about its nature. Juri Rescheto, DW Russia bureau chief, posited that Prigozhin’s growing influence and his vocal skepticism about the war in Ukraine might have led to foul play, implying that the crash might not be a mere accident. If Prigozhin’s demise is confirmed, Rescheto speculated that the Wagner Group’s existence as a combat force could be compromised.
Prigozhin’s recent whereabouts have been a subject of speculation, with a video allegedly depicting him in Africa emerging just days before the crash. His role as the leader of Wagner forces in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, coupled with his confrontations with Russian military leadership, underscore his complex and controversial profile.
As news of Prigozhin’s death reached the international stage, responses were mixed. President Joe Biden, leaving a fitness studio during vacation, acknowledged the news, hinting at President Putin’s involvement in such matters. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak saw Prigozhin’s death as a calculated message from Putin ahead of the 2024 elections, while other leaders like Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas expressed concerns about opponents facing potential harm under Putin’s rule.
The tragic crash thus unveils a complex narrative surrounding Yevgeny Prigozhin, his involvement with the Wagner Group, his clashes with Russian authorities, and the broader geopolitical implications of his demise.