Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner who briefly rebelled against Russia’s military leadership in June, was on a flight that crashed northwest of Moscow on Wednesday, as confirmed by the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency.
“The investigation has been launched into the crash of the Embraer aircraft, taking place tonight in the Tver region,” the Federal Air Transport Agency announced.
“According to the list of passengers, among them is the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
The private Embraer jet, which met its tragic end near Kuzhenkino village in the Tver region on Wednesday, was carrying seven passengers and three crew, stated the Russian Ministry of Emergency Services.
Initial reports indicate that all onboard perished, with the ministry noting ongoing “search operations.”
Also on the flight were Utkin Dmitriy, a long-standing confidant of Prigozhin since the formation of Wagner, and Prigozhin’s chief assistant Valeriy Chekalov.
Eight victims have been recovered from the crash site, as per the report by Russia 24 state media. Prior to this, TASS had mentioned the aircraft “burned up” post-impact, having been airborne for roughly thirty minutes.
In light of the crash, Russian authorities have started a criminal inquiry. The Russian Investigative Committee dispatched a team to the crash site to “determine the crash’s reasons.”
This incident happens following Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny, which momentarily threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority, which ended after an agreement prompting Wagner’s head and his forces to move to Belarus.
Wagner troops played a pivotal role in capturing the eastern Ukrainian cities of Soledar and Bakhmut after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine the previous year.
Thereafter, Prigozhin spent a significant time critizing the Russian military leadership and their support towards his forces, culminating in his call for armed rebellion.
US President Joe Biden hinted at Putin’s potential involvement in the tragedy. “You may recall, I was asked about this,” Biden told CNN. “I said I would be careful what I rode in. I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised.”
While these events were unfolding, Putin was attending an event far from the crash location, in Kursk, commemorating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.
Russian media outlet RIA Novosti released a video of a plane descending with a missing wing, claiming it captured the moment an Embraer jet crashed over the Tver region.
RIA Novosti released another video showing engine debris from the crash. The visible burning debris displayed the registration digits 2795, matching Prigozhin’s plane registration RA-02795.
Flight records reveal the plane associated with Prigozhin climbed to roughly 28,000 feet before its track suddenly disappeared around 6 p.m. local time, southwest of Tver city.
The Embraer Legacy 600 is a business jet modeled after the ERJ 145 regional airliner utilized by U.S. airlines.
‘Russia Has an Open Windows Policy’
Senior officials from the Biden administration had cautioned that the Kremlin might target Prigozhin following the halting of the rebellion.
CIA Chief Bill Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported Biden’s views, emphasizing Putin’s reputation for retribution.
Drawing from his experiences, Burns stated in July that Putin embodies the “ultimate retribution agent.” He further suggested that Prigozhin remain wary and retain his food tester.
Similarly, Blinken remarked in July, “While NATO practices an open-door policy, Russia seems to favor an open-window approach.”
For years, Prigozhin prospered in post-Soviet Russia’s turmoil. He transformed from an oligarch to a warlord after the 2014 Russian-backed movement in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.
In the same year, he established Wagner, a mercenary group involved in various global Russian-backed ventures. Despite denials, his ties to Wagner became evident when they played a pivotal role in Russia’s Ukrainian invasion.
He came into conflict with Russian officials after initiating an armed uprising against Putin two months ago on June 23.
This was subsequent to his criticism of the country’s military leadership regarding their management of the Ukraine conflict.
While criminal charges against the Wagner chief were dismissed, Putin mentioned in a statement then that those betraying the nation would be held accountable.