Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and high officers of his non-public Wagner army firm had been presumed useless in a aircraft crash that was broadly seen as an assassination, two months after they staged a mutiny that dented President Vladimir Putin’s authority.

Russia’s civil aviation company mentioned that Prigozhin and 6 high lieutenants had been on a enterprise jet that crashed Wednesday, quickly after taking off from Moscow, with a crew of three. Rescuers discovered all 10 our bodies, and Russian media cited sources in Prigozhin’s Wagner firm who confirmed his demise.

Police cordoned off the sphere the place the aircraft crashed just a few hundred kilometers (miles) north of Moscow, as investigators studied the location. Autos had been seen driving in to take the our bodies for forensic examinations.

At Wagner’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, lights had been turned on within the form of a giant cross. Prigozhin’s supporters introduced flowers to the constructing in an improvised memorial.

U.S. and different Western officers lengthy anticipated Putin to go after Prigozhin, regardless of promising to drop costs in a deal that ended the June 23-24 mutiny.

“I don’t know for a truth what occurred, however I’m not shocked,” U.S. President Joe Biden mentioned. “There’s not a lot that occurs in Russia that Putin’s not behind.”

Prigozhin supporters claimed on pro-Wagner messaging app channels that the aircraft was intentionally downed, together with suggesting it might have been hit by an air protection missile or focused by a bomb on board. These claims couldn’t be independently verified. Quite a few opponents and critics of Putin have been killed or gravely sickened in obvious assassination makes an attempt.

“The downing of the aircraft was actually no mere coincidence,” Janis Sarts, director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, instructed Latvian tv.

The crash got here the identical week that Russian media reported that Gen. Sergei Surovikin, a former high commander in Ukraine who was reportedly linked to Prigozhin, was dismissed from his publish as commander of Russia’s air pressure. Surovikin hasn’t been seen in public because the mutiny, when he recorded a video tackle urging Prigozhin’s forces to tug again.

As information of the crash broke, Putin projected calm, talking at an occasion commemorating the WWII Battle of Kursk and hailing the heroes of Russia’s struggle in Ukraine. On Thursday, he addressed the BRICS summit in Johannesburg by way of videolink, speaking about increasing cooperation among the many group’s members. He didn’t point out the crash and the Kremlin made no remark about it.

Whereas numerous theories in regards to the occasions swirled, most observers noticed Prigozhin’s demise as Putin’s punishment for essentially the most critical problem to his authority of his 23-year rule.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow on the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Heart, mentioned on Telegram that “it doesn’t matter what brought on the aircraft crash, everybody will see it as an act of vengeance and retribution,” and “the Kremlin wouldn’t actually stand in the way in which of that.”

Within the revolt that began on June 23 and lasted lower than 24 hours, Prigozhin’s mercenaries swept by the southern Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don and captured the army headquarters there with out firing a shot. They then drove inside about 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Moscow in what Prigozhin referred to as a “march of justice” to oust the highest army leaders who demanded that the mercenaries signal contracts with the Protection Ministry. They downed a number of army plane, killing greater than a dozen Russian pilots.

Putin first denounced the revolt as “treason” and a “stab within the again” and vowed to punish its perpetrators, however hours later made a deal that noticed an finish to the mutiny in trade for an amnesty for Prigozhin and his mercenaries and a permission for them to maneuver to Belarus.

Particulars of the deal have remained murky, however Prigozhin has reportedly shuttled amongst Moscow, St. Petersburg, Belarus and Africa the place his mercenaries have continued their actions regardless of the revolt. He was shortly given again truckloads of money, gold bars and different gadgets that police seized on the day of the revolt, feeding hypothesis that the Kremlin nonetheless wanted Prigozhin regardless of the mutiny.

Earlier this week, the mercenary chief printed his first video because the mutiny, declaring that he was talking from an undisclosed location in Africa the place Wagner is “making Russia even better on all continents, and Africa much more free.”

Prigozhin’s abroad actions reportedly have irked Russia’s army management, who’ve sought to exchange Wagner with Russian army personnel in Africa.

The Institute for the Examine of Struggle argued that Russian authorities probably moved to get rid of Prigozhin and his high associates as “the ultimate step to get rid of Wagner as an impartial group.”

Flight monitoring information reviewed by The Related Press confirmed a non-public jet that Prigozhin had used beforehand took off from Moscow on Wednesday night, and its transponder sign disappeared minutes later.

Movies shared by the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Gray Zone confirmed a aircraft dropping like a stone from a big cloud of smoke, twisting wildly because it fell, one in every of its wings apparently lacking. A freefall like that may happen when an plane sustains extreme injury, and a frame-by-frame AP evaluation of two movies was in keeping with some kind of explosion mid-flight.

Prigozhin’s demise is unlikely to impact Russia’s struggle in Ukraine. His forces fought a few of the fiercest battles over the past 18 months, however pulled again from the frontline after capturing the japanese metropolis of Bakhmut in late Could.

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