Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group and known associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has died in a private jet crash in Russia. The crash occurred just two months after Prigozhin’s failed coup, which captured global attention as he seized the city of Rostov-on-Don and ordered troops towards Moscow. Speculation surrounds whether Putin ordered the downing of the aircraft as Prigozhin had been accused of treason. The incident has raised questions about the future of the Wagner Group and the extent of Putin’s authority in Russia.
Speculations on Russian President’s involvement
Speculation is rampant regarding the possible involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the tragic crash of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private jet. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, died in the crash just two months after his failed coup attempt. Many believe that Putin, known for his unforgiving stance towards traitors, may have ordered the downing of the aircraft. This speculation is fueled by the fact that Prigozhin was accused of treason by Putin in June. Additionally, the firing of Sergei Surovikin, the former commander of Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, just a day before the crash has raised suspicions of the president’s involvement.
Prigozhin’s Background and Role in the Coup
Yevgeny Prigozhin, once a loyalist known as “Putin’s chef” for his catering services to the Kremlin, became disillusioned with the Russian government’s handling of the war. He led an uprising in late June, seizing the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and ordering troops towards Moscow. Prigozhin’s coup attempt received global coverage, but he was eventually forced to retreat after reaching within 200km of Moscow. This act of betrayal invoked the wrath of Putin, who denounced it as a stab in the back. Despite brokering a compromise deal for his men to relocate to Belarus, Prigozhin was already marked as a target.
On Wednesday evening, Russia’s aviation regulator confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin was among the ten people killed in a private jet crash in the Tver region. The jet was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it went down in flames. Also on board was Dmitry Utkin, a central figure in the Wagner Group. The circumstances of the crash raise questions about its cause. A Telegram channel associated with the Wagner Orchestra claimed that the jet had been shot down by Russian air defenses. The Russian investigative committee has launched a probe into the crash to determine the truth.
Reaction from Putin
Despite the speculation surrounding his possible involvement, Putin appeared cheery on Wednesday evening when Russian media reported Prigozhin’s death. During an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk in World War II, Putin addressed the participants, emphasizing devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the military oath. His seemingly nonchalant attitude has raised eyebrows among those who suspect his connection to Prigozhin’s demise. However, Putin has not made any statements directly addressing the crash or the allegations against him.
Investigation into the Crash
The Russian investigative committee has begun an investigation into the plane crash to uncover the truth behind the tragedy. The crash is a matter of significant concern, considering the high-profile individuals on board and the speculations surrounding it. The investigation will aim to determine the cause of the crash and whether there was any foul play involved. Given the circumstances and the potential implications, it is crucial for the investigation to be thorough and transparent to address any doubts or suspicions surrounding the incident.
Prigozhin’s Reputation and Connections
Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef,” had built a reputation as a well-connected figure in Russia. He established the Wagner mercenary group during Russia’s partial occupation of Ukraine in 2014. Prigozhin emerged as one of the most prominent leaders in Russia’s war on Ukraine, recruiting convicts and leading successful but bloody attacks. However, his relationship with Russia’s high command and defense ministry deteriorated due to a lack of logistical support. Prigozhin’s public rants against top military officials left him isolated and at odds with Putin’s loyal military leadership.
Different Theories Surrounding the Crash
Several theories have emerged regarding the cause of the crash. Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov attempted to deflect blame onto Ukraine, suggesting that the crash may have been a terrorist attack orchestrated by Ukraine. However, this theory has been dismissed by journalist Christo Grozev, who argued that it is unlikely Ukraine had the capacity for such an act, especially when Prigozhin was one of their main enemies. Grozev also speculated that Prigozhin may have staged his own death, citing his previous use of doubles. Another plausible theory suggests that Putin personally ordered a “hit job” to humiliate Prigozhin.
The news of Prigozhin’s death has garnered significant attention worldwide, with several countries and officials expressing their perspectives. U.S. officials, who had been anticipating Prigozhin’s demise due to Putin’s history of eliminating opponents, have not shown surprise at the news. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, made a tongue-in-cheek comment about the situation, highlighting Putin’s “open-windows policy.” U.S. President Joe Biden, when asked about the crash, stated that while he did not know the facts, he would not be surprised if Putin was involved. The international community awaits further developments and official statements regarding the crash.
Impact on the Wagner Group
The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, is likely to have a significant impact on the organization. Prigozhin played a central role in leading the group and was instrumental in its operations. His demise leaves a void in the leadership and raises questions about the group’s future direction. It remains unclear how the Wagner Group will navigate this loss and whether it will continue to operate under the same brand or rebrand itself. The consequences of Prigozhin’s death for the Wagner Group and its role in Russia’s military endeavors are yet to be fully understood.
The tragic crash of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private jet has ignited speculation and raised questions about the possible involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s history as a loyalist turned traitor, his failed coup attempt, and his subsequent death in the crash have led many to suspect foul play. The investigation into the crash will be crucial in uncovering the truth and addressing the speculations surrounding the incident. The impact of Prigozhin’s death on the Wagner Group and Russia’s military operations remains uncertain. As the international community awaits further developments, the full implications of this event are yet to be realized.