Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’ plane that crashed with no survivors, says Russian civil aviation authority

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’ plane that crashed with no survivors, says Russian civil aviation authority

Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was on board a jet that crashed in Russia on Wednesday killing 10 people on board, Russia’s civil aviation authority has said.

Seven passengers and three crew were on board the private Embraer aircraft, which was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg when it came down, officials at Rosaviatsia said.

The jet is said to have crashed in the Tver region, north of Moscow. The Russian emergency services ministry said “according to preliminary information, all those on board died”.

Officials said Prigozhin and his deputy, group commander Dmitry Utkin Wagner, were on the passenger list and on board.

Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone said that the pair had been killed. The Standard has been unable to confirm the reports.

Mr Prigozhin, whose private military force fought alongside Russia's regular army in Ukraine, mounted a short-lived armed mutiny against Russia's military leadership in late June.

The Kremlin said he would be exiled to Belarus, and his fighters would either retire, follow him there, or join the Russian military.

An image reported to show smoke from the crash  in the Tver region (via REUTERS)
An image reported to show smoke from the crash in the Tver region (via REUTERS)

President Joe Biden has been briefed on developments.

Mr Biden and CIA Director Williams Burns spoke separately last month of a potential danger to Prigozhin after his uprising against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

White House national security spokesperson Adrienne Watson said following the crash: “We have seen the reports. If confirmed, no one should be surprised [given his history with Putin].”

The UK’s Foreign Office said: “We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Flight tracking data reviewed by The Associated Press shows a private jet registered to Wagner that Prigozhin had used previously took off from Moscow on Wednesday evening and its transponder signal disappeared minutes later.

Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone reported that the private plane was shot down by air defences.

It said local residents heard two bangs before the crash and saw two vapour trails.

Tass news agency said the plane caught fire on hitting the ground. The aircraft had been in the air for less than half an hour, it said.

A video online purported to show the plane falling from the sky.

Another news agency, Ria, said eight bodies had been recovered.

Grey Zone reported that a second business jet owned by Mr Prigozhin landed safely in the Moscow region.

Mercenary boss Mr Prigozhin, 62, headed the mutiny between June 23 and 24, moving his troops from Ukraine, seizing the southern Russian city of Rostov on Don and threatened to march on Moscow.

The move came after months of tension with Russian military commanders over the Ukraine conflict.

The stand-off was settled by a deal which allowed Wagner troops to move to Belarus or join the Russian army.

Mr Prigozhin himself agreed to relocate to Belarus.

But in recent weeks he has apparently been able to move freely, making public appearances in Russia and releasing a video of him purportedly in Africa.

As the news about the crash was breaking, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk, hailing the heroes of Russia’s “the special military operation” in Ukraine.

Also this week, Russian media reported, citing anonymous sources, that a top Russian general linked to Prigozhin — General Sergei Surovikin — was dismissed from his position of the commander of Russia’s air force.

Surovikin, who at one point led Russia’s operation in Ukraine, hasn’t been seen in public since the mutiny, when he recorded a video address urging Prigozhin’s forces to pull back.