By Carter Roos, Staff Writer
Wagner military group leader and powerful Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who helped orchestrate a brief mutiny against the Russian government in June, died along with nine others after a private plane carrying them crashed on Aug. 23. Details surrounding the accident remain unknown.
The plane’s passenger manifest listed Prigozhin and several other members of the Wagner private military force, including Wagner’s top leader Dmitiri Utkin, as passengers.
Russian authorities confirmed on Sunday morning that, after conducting genetic testing on the recovered bodies, they all “conformed with the manifest,” confirming the death of Prigozhin and the others on board the flight. Prigozhin was buried in a private funeral last Tuesday in St. Petersburg, his press services said.
The plane, an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet, reportedly left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Aug. 23 bound for St. Petersburg and crashed in a wooded area in the Tver region of Russia, less than 100 miles northwest of the country’s capital.
Prigozhin, who owned a successful catering company in Russia and was a former close ally of Putin, built the Wagner private military force after being assigned several tasks by Putin that were handled close to the Kremlin.
Though the cause of the crash is still unknown, U.S. and Western officials have stated that Prigozhin was “very likely” the latest victim in Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics,” citing preliminary intelligence reports.
Putin and Prigozhin had reached an accord in the months following Prigozhin’s day-long insurrection in June.
While Putin and his administration initially labeled Prigozhin’s actions as treason and vowed to punish the guilty parties, they made an agreement that allowed Prigozhin to walk free on the condition that he relocated to Belarus.
The Kremlin has launched a criminal investigation into the crash, though there are allegations that the Russian government may have ordered the accident to remove Prigozhin and other vital members of the private military group.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden stated that he believed Putin was responsible for the crash, but was unable to verify that belief.
“There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” he said.
The Russian-backed investigation is yet to indicate any discoveries from their investigation.
Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder said that initial reports of a surface-to-air missile hitting the plane were inaccurate. He declined to comment when asked if the U.S. believed the crash was an assassination.
“It is no coincidence the whole world immediately looks at the Kremlin,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine echoed this sentiment: “We (Ukraine) have nothing to do with this. Everyone understands who does.”
With Prigozhin’s death confirmed, many have pointed to Andrei Troshev as a potential leader of the Wagner group heading forward.
Troshev previously served as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian military and recently as a contact between Wagner and the Kremlin.
Wagner telegrams and member blogs indicate that Troshev may have been cast out of the group after the June insurrection, citing a betrayal between Troshev and Prigozhin.
“Troshev may be one of the future leaders of the updated Wagner, since the old Wagner is no longer and will not be,” military affairs expert Anton Mardasov said, indicating at least a restructuring of Wagner into a more controlled group.
In a televised statement addressing the families of the crash victims a day after the incident occurred, Putin said Prigozhin “achieved the results he needed both for himself, and when I asked him, for the common cause, as in these last months.”
Caption: Yevgeny Progozhin, a prominent business owner and leader of the Wagner mercenary group, was killed in a plane crash on Aug. 23.