By Lucy Ashton
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner paramilitary chief who launched an armed mutiny in June, was on a private jet that crashed in the Tver region near Moscow, killing all 10 on-board, Russian officials have said.
Rosaviatsia, the Russian aviation authority, said Mr Prigozhin was one of the passengers listed in the manifest as being on-board the Embraer business jet that crashed on Wednesday evening.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but Mr Prigozhin’s long-standing feud with the military and the armed uprising he led in June would give the Russian state ample motive for revenge. Media channels linked to Wagner quickly suggested that a Russian air defence missile had shot down the plane.
The Embraer jet crashed in the Tver region while flying between Moscow and St Petersburg. Video posted to the internet apparently showed the small jet trailing a plume of smoke before slamming into the ground and erupting in flames.
The jet reportedly had the tail number RA-02795. The plane has been under US sanctions since 2019 because of its connection to Mr Prigozhin. The Wagner chief has been reported to use the plane, including shortly after his failed mutiny, when the plane departed from St Petersburg to Belarus on the morning of June 27th.
Several Russian news agencies, including Baza, which is close to Russian law enforcement, said the seven passengers and three crew on-board the jet were all killed. Officials later confirmed 10 people had died in the crash.
Mr Prigozhin released a video earlier this week in which he claimed to be in Africa, where his mercenaries have relocated since the abortive uprising. But it was unclear when it was taken and if he had returned to Russia since it was shot.
Mr Prigozhin, an ally of Vladimir Putin’s who amassed a fortune from state contracts, later went on to establish troll factories and a paramilitary army that became an important extension of Russian power abroad.
His Wagner group inked lucrative deals in Central African Republic and other African countries. In Ukraine, his troops, including tens of thousands of convicts recruited from prisons, played a key role in the fight for Bakhmut.
But a long-standing conflict with the top brass of the defence ministry only grew worse in Ukraine, where he feuded over ammunition and strategy, claiming his irregular fighters were being sacrificed to protect regular Russian troops.
“Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where’s the f**king ammo?” he screamed in one social media post, calling out defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the general Staff Valery Gerasimov while lobbying for more shells to be delivered to his troops fighting near Bakhmut. His troops reportedly intimidated, extorted and kidnapped Russian troops near the front lines, stealing tanks and trading their captives for yet more ammunition.
The defence ministry planned to take control of Wagner by July 1st when Mr Prigozhin launched an armed mutiny, sending his paramilitaries to take control of a military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and launching a “march of justice” on Moscow. An estimated 15 Russian servicemen were killed in the mutiny, which ended when Mr Prigozhin reportedly agreed to leave Ukraine and move his mercenaries to Belarus.