The head of the Wagner group, Evgeny Prigozhin, his deputy, and eight other passengers died in a plane crash on Wednesday in the northwest of Moscow, according to the Russian air transport agency and a ministry.
Moscow has not yet officially responded, but an impromptu memorial has appeared in front of the paramilitary group’s headquarters in St. Petersburg.
Evgeny Prigozhin, who was responsible for a failed rebellion in June, his deputy, and eight other passengers died in a private plane crash on Wednesday in the northwest of Moscow, according to the Russian air transport agency and a ministry.
The Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense have not yet responded.
Early Thursday, August 24, near Kuyunkino, police officers closed off the entrance to the crash site, while people mourned in front of the Wagner headquarters in St. Petersburg, laying down the paramilitary group’s insignia, red flowers, and candles, according to AFP photographers.
“We have no words,” said a masked man apparently a member of Wagner, wearing a cap and a sweatshirt with the organization’s logo, in front of the impromptu memorial, calling for support for “Evgeny Viktorovich (Prigozhin) and all our commanders.”
Vladimir Putin gives a speech without mentioning the plane crash
While operations continue, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk during World War II, visiting this southwestern region of Russia, bordering Ukraine.
Without mentioning the crash, Vladimir Putin praised on stage, in front of the crowd, the “dedication” and “loyalty” of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, who “fight with courage and determination”.
A counselor to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhailo Podoliak, implied that Evgeny Prigozhin may have been eliminated by the Kremlin.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “not surprised” by the possible death of the head of Wagner, stating that “few things happen in Russia without Putin having something to do with it.”
The spokesperson for the French government, Olivier Veran, stated that there were “reasonable doubts” about “the conditions” of this plane crash.
The leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, hoped on X that “his death could dismantle the presence of Wagner in Belarus,” a country allied with Moscow, describing Evgeny Prigozhin as a “murderer” who “will not be missed by anyone.”
The head of Wagner seemed to come and go in Russia despite being a pariah
Evgeny Prigozhin was responsible in June for a rebellion against the Russian General Staff and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. His men briefly captured military sites in southern Russia before heading towards Moscow. Vladimir Putin referred to him as a “traitor,” without mentioning his name.
Evgeny Prigozhin quickly abandoned this mutiny, amid the conflict in Ukraine. It ended in the evening of June 24th with an agreement for his departure to Belarus, while his fighters could join him there, enter the regular Russian army, or return to civilian life.
But on Monday evening, the head of Wagner appeared in a video released by groups close to Wagner on social networks, where he claimed to be in Africa to “make Russia even greater on all continents and Africa even more free.”
After the rebellion, some of Wagner’s fighters went to Belarus, where they participated in the training of the armed forces of that country. However, for an unexplained reason, the head of Wagner seemed to come and go in Russia despite being a pariah, even participating in a meeting at the Kremlin a few days after his rebellion.
In Ukraine, Evgeny Prigozhin made a name for himself during the long and bloody battle for Bakhmut in the east, which was captured in May at a heavy price. It was during this battle that his conflict with senior Russian military officials escalated, with Evgeny Prigozhin accusing them of incompetence and not supplying him with enough ammunition. AFP