Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dimitry Utkin, the co-founders of the Wagner Group were reportedly killed in a plane crash outside of Moscow.
Prigozhin and Utkin’s names were on the plane’s manifest before departure.
A Wagner group statement said the plane was shot down.
Reports say that two explosions were heard before the plane plummeted to earth.
There is video of the plane falling from the sky out of control. The video was taken by a civilian with a cellphone from her garden. It is likely she heard the explosions and rushed to see what was going on.
As the plane falls you can see a trail of smoke.
There is speculation that the plane, an Embraer 6000 with registration number RA-02795. had been in the air only a few minutes and was shot down. It had departed Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and was heading to St. Petersburg. The area where it crashed is a few miles north of Moscow. The passenger manifest included Prigozhin and Utkin and seven others.
Others say that Prigozhin also used another Embraer, a 650 model, also departed Moscow for Belarus. This story is circulating but so far at least even the Russian press is reporting Prigozhin was on the Embraer that crashed.
The elimination of Prigozhin and Utkin puts the Wagner group in a situation where some leadership will need to be found. Wagner is active in Belarus and also in Africa. A day ago, standing somewhere in the Sahel region of Africa, Prigozhin had announced a “new day” for Russia and Africa.
In a video Prigozhin said this on August 22nd:
““We are working. Temperatures are 100°F. Everything we love. The Wagner Group conducts reconnaissance and search missions. We make Russia even greater on all continents! We make Africa even more free. Justice and happiness for the African peoples. We are the nightmares for “ISIS”, “Al-Qaeda” and other terrorists.” “We hire real heroes and continue to fulfill the tasks that were set out for us and to fulfill the promises which we made that we could handle it.”
Yesterday Putin also fired Sergey Surovikin, Commander in Chief of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, who had been seconded to Prigozhin during the fighting in Bakhmut. It is uncertain what happened to Surovikin (he has not been seen for two months). The speculation is he was put under some form of house arrest and was interrogated over his role in the failed Wagner coup d’état. Just as the Wagner forces moved into Rostov on Don, challenging the army and Putin’s leadership, Surovikin recorded a video where he urged the Wagner forces to pull back and not carry out the operation. It was never clear if the video was a serious one, or if it was intended to give Surovikin himself an excuse should the Wagner ploy fail.
Putin was once asked in 2018 the following question:
Q. Are you able to forgive?
Putin answered: Yes, but not everything.
Q. What is it impossible to forgive?
One would presume that if it is finally confirmed that Prigozhin and Utkin are dead, the Wagner operation will be taken over by officials friendly to the army and to Vladimir Putin. This may not be an easy task: the Wagnerites are fiercely independent and were closely tied to Prigozhin and Utkin.
It is, however, true that if the reports are confirmed Putin’s hold on the Russian presidency will be significantly enhanced.
Even so, for Prigozhin, Utkin and the others, this is a pretty terrible ending.