(DCWatchdog.com) – The Russian Investigative Committee confirmed on Sunday that a plane crash resulted in the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder and leader of the Wagner mercenary force. Prigozhin was previously known for orchestrating an armed uprising against the Russian military.
According to Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko, “forensic and genetic testing identified all 10 bodies recovered at the site of Wednesday’s crash and the findings conform to the manifest” of the plane. She did not provide further insights into the potential causes of the plane crash.
Earlier in the week, Russia’s civil aviation authority reported that Prigozhin, aged 62, and several of his top associates were among the passengers and crew on the plane. The aircraft crashed midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Prigozhin’s place of birth. The crash claimed the lives of all seven passengers and the three crew members.
Notably, two months before the crash, Prigozhin led his mercenaries from Ukraine in a daylong rebellion against Russia’s military. This move was labeled as “treason” by President Vladimir Putin, who promised retribution for those participating.
However, the Kremlin soon reached an agreement with Prigozhin. The deal allowed him to avoid any legal charges and to relocate to Belarus. This move raised questions regarding any potential repercussions Prigozhin might face for his revolt, which was a significant challenge to Putin’s two-decade-long rule.
A U.S. intelligence report has suggested the crash was caused by a deliberate explosion. Amidst growing speculations that this might have been a covert operation ordered by President Putin, the Kremlin dismissed such claims as a “complete lie.”
A Western official commented on the preliminary findings, suggesting that Prigozhin was “very likely” a target, considering Putin’s well-documented record of addressing his adversaries.
Alongside Prigozhin, Dmitry Utkin, often considered the true founder of Wagner, and the group’s logistics expert, Valery Chekalov, lost their lives in the tragic incident. The future of the Wagner group, known for its significant influence on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and its presence in Africa and the Middle East, is now in flux.
Post-rebellion, Prigozhin was slated for exile in Belarus. The mercenaries under his command were given a choice: join him in Belarus, retire, or serve in the regular Russian army in Ukraine, where they had previously partnered with Russian forces. A sizable group of Wagner mercenaries chose to relocate to Belarus, setting up camp southeast of Minsk.