Yevgeny Prigozhin: The head of Wagner was on board the plane that crashed in Russia, the aviation agency says



CNN

Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency said Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, who staged a short-lived rebellion against Russia’s military leadership in June, was on board a plane that crashed northwest of Moscow on Wednesday.

“An investigation has been opened into the Embraer crash, which occurred tonight in the Tver region,” the Federal Air Transport Agency said in a statement, according to the official TASS news agency. “According to the passenger list, among them is the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin.”

Seven passengers and three crew members were on board the private Embraer plane when it crashed near the village of Kozhenkono in the Tver region on Wednesday, according to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Services. The ministry said that all those on board the plane had died, according to preliminary information, adding that they were “conducting searches.”

Among those on board were Dmitry Utkin, a trusted lieutenant of Prigozhin’s since Wagner’s formation, and Valery Chekalov, Prigozhin’s chief aide, according to the passenger list published by Russia’s aviation agency.

State media Russia 24 reported that the bodies of eight people were found at the crash site. Earlier, Tass reported that the plane “burned out” on impact after being in the air for about half an hour.

Russian investigators launched a criminal case in the aftermath of the incident. The Russian Investigative Committee said that a team was on its way to the scene of the accident “to find out the causes of the accident.”

The incident comes months after Prigozhin was released A brief rebellion posed an unprecedented challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority before it was abruptly called off in a deal that required Wagner’s boss and his fighters to move to Belarus.

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Wagner’s forces were heavily involved in capturing the cities of Solidar and Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Prigozhin then spent months criticizing the Russian military leadership and the support it was giving to his forces before calling for an armed insurrection.

A senior Ukrainian official told CNN on Wednesday that the plane that crashed north of Moscow “is a manifestation of Putin’s Russia.”

“This is why we are fighting,” said the senior official, who is close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We don’t want to be part of Putin’s world.”

US President Joe Biden has indicated that Putin may have been behind the incident. “You may remember I was asked about this,” Biden told CNN. “I said I would be careful what I ride in. I don’t know what really happened, but I’m not surprised.”

As word of the accident spread, Putin was taking part in an event hundreds of miles away from the site, in the Kursk region, to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany there.

A video clip published by the Russian state media, RIA Novosti, showed a plane falling from the sky and losing one of its wings. CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the video, but RIA Novosti claimed that this was the moment when an Embraer plane fell from the sky over the Tver region.

A separate video, also published by RIA Novosti, shows the wreckage of the plane’s engine at the crash site. On the wreckage of the still smoldering engine are the last four digits of the registration number: 2795. Prigozhin’s aircraft is registered as RA-02795.

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Flight data shows that the plane linked to Prigozhin reached an altitude of about 28,000 feet before publicly available flight tracking data suddenly stopped broadcasting, shortly after 6 p.m. local time, southwest of Tver.

Tracking website FlightRadar24 told CNN that it is still analyzing data that is “likely incomplete” due to the way flight data is collected near Moscow.

CNN previously reported on the plane, which has been linked to Prigozhin and Wagner Group.

The plane is believed to have previously flown Prigozhin from Rostov-on-Don – which became the headquarters of his short-lived rebellion in June – to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Belarus.

The Embraer Legacy 600 is a business jet based on the ERJ 145 regional passenger airliner used by airlines in the United States.

Senior Biden administration officials have warned repeatedly and publicly that Prigozhin could be killed by the Kremlin in the aftermath of the cessation of the insurgency.

“If I were him, I would be careful what I eat. I will watch my menu,” President Biden said in July.

CIA Director Bill Burns and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken echoed Biden’s sentiments, with Burns noting that Putin has a long history of vendettas.

“In my experience, Putin is the ultimate messenger of vengeance. So I would be surprised if Prigozhin escaped further retaliation for this. In that sense, the president is right. If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster,” Burns said later in July. “.

‘If I were Mr. Prigozhin, I would still be very anxious. NATO follows an open-door policy; Blinken also said in July that Russia has a policy of open windows.

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For many years Prigozhin was a devious figure, growing rich in the chaos and opportunity of Russia’s post-Soviet economy.

His transformation from wealthy oligarch to brutal warlord followed the 2014 Russian-backed separatist movement in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin founded the Wagner Company that year as a group of mercenaries that fought in Ukraine and, increasingly, for Russian-backed causes around the world. He has long denied his connection to the mysterious group, despite evidence to the contrary.

It was highlighted by Wagner’s close involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which resulted in rare victories for the Kremlin.

But he made a mistake by the Russian authorities when he launched the armed rebellion against Putin two months ago until June 23, after he criticized the country’s military leaders for their handling of the Ukrainian war. Criminal charges against Wagner’s boss were dropped, but Putin said in a speech at the time that those who walk the “path of treachery” will face punishment.

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