Exactly two months ago, the uprising of his mercenary group against the military leadership in Moscow kept the world in suspense. Now Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozchin has apparently died. He was on a plane with nine other passengers that crashed north of Moscow. Also in the machine was the commander of the Wagner group, Dmitry Utkin.
The crash raises the question of whether the Kremlin has taken revenge on Prigozhin after all. President Vladimir Putin had accused the Wagner mercenaries of stabbing Russia in the back during their revolt and announced retaliation.
Attempted Wagner putsch ended two months ago
The Wagner unit previously fought alongside the Russian military in the war against Ukraine and played a central role in the capture of the embattled city of Bakhmut. At the end of June, Prigozhin called for a rebellion against the Russian military leadership. The reason: Prigozhin accused the Ministry of Defense of bad warfare. His soldiers would be misused as “cannon fodder”.
The mercenaries advanced from Ukraine to Russia and took, among other things, the city of Rostov. However, Prigozhin emphasized that their actions were not directed against Putin. The Wagner leader reported that his units got within 200 kilometers of Moscow before he himself ordered the retreat.
After that, Prigozhin sought refuge in Belarus, which allegedly happened after collusion with the Kremlin. However, in early July there were reports that the Wagner boss and former confidante of Putin had returned to St. Petersburg.
The last sign of life from mercenary leader Prigozhin is a video from Africa that he recently published on the Internet. He claims to be in Africa with his fighters. These mercenaries are known to be active in various African states, including Mali.
What we know so far about Prigozhin’s alleged death
- Ten people died in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver region.
- According to the Russian news agency Tass, the plane, an Embraer Legacy, was en route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg – the birthplace of Prigozhin and the site of the headquarters of the Wagner Group. Contact with the occupants is said to have been lost shortly after take-off.
- The country’s aviation authority has officially confirmed that the head of the Wagner mercenary group was also on board the plane. His deputy and co-founder of the Wagner Group, Dmitri Utkin, was also one of the passengers.
- First, the Telegram channel “Grey Zone” reported that Prigozhin died in the crash. In the past, this channel served the Wagner group and Prigozhin himself as a platform for spreading news. The statement portrayed Prigozhin as a “true patriot” of Russia who was murdered by “traitors.”
What we don’t know
- Is Prigozhin really dead? An official confirmation of Prigozhin’s death is still pending. So far, no body of Prigozhin has been recovered. Another private plane attributed to Prigozhin, which according to flight data was also on its way to St. Petersburg, turned around after the first plane crashed and later landed in Moscow.
- President Vladimir Putin made a speech shortly after the plane crash, but did not respond.
- Was the plane shot down? And if so, on purpose? According to the flight data, the machine showed no signs of a problem until an abrupt crash in the last 30 seconds. On the Wagner-related Telegram channel Gray Zone published videos that allegedly show the crash suggested that it was shot down. It shows an airplane falling from a cloud of smoke like a stone to the ground.
- What’s next for the Wagner Group? If the deaths of Prigozhin and Utkin are confirmed, the group will be left without clear leadership.
How the world reacts
- US President Joe Biden was informed immediately and said: “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m not surprised. There isn’t much that’s happening in Russia that Putin isn’t behind.”
The advisor to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podoliak, also reacted with little surprise tonight. Should the thesis be confirmed that the crash was due to an assassination plot, Moscow would have sent a signal to its own army “that there really are no heroes there and that any disloyalty will be punished with death”: “Prigozhin has at that moment, when he stopped 200 kilometers from Moscow, signed his own death warrant.”
The FDP politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann reacted in Editorial network Germany in similar words: “It was to be assumed that Prigozhin would pay for his attack on Putin with his life: a devil getting involved with the devil. But it also shows that Putin and his henchmen in the Kremlin are obviously very nervous. “
Putin also pursues a value-based foreign policy. Only his values are different from ours. He glorifies violence. He celebrates the Führerstaat. Those who think differently do not enrich him, but awaken his desire to kill. His role model is clearly not Mother Theresa, but Stalin. His motto is also his: And if you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll smash your face in.