Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s body was identified by a missing part of his finger, it has been reported, as the British Ministry of Defence said the Russian warlord’s death would have a “deeply destabilising” impact on the private army.
The mercenary group boss, and nine others, are believed to have been killed when a business jet crashed in Russia’s Tver region after a suspected explosion on Wednesday evening.
Wagner field commander Dimitry Utkin and logistics chief Valery Chekalov are also thought to have perished in the crash, which came two months after Prigozhin ordered his soldiers to march on Moscow in a short lived mutiny against Vladimir Putin.
Kristina Raspopova, a 39-year-old air stewardess, was the only woman to be killed. Shortly before take-off she had shared an image on social media of her eating breakfast with her cabin bag next to her.
Prigozhin’s body was reportedly identified by a partially missing finger on his left hand - an injury he sustained while serving time in a penal colony, Russian new sourced reported.
In its morning briefing, the MoD said it was “highly likely” the former Putin loyalist died in the plane crash, but warned there was "not yet definitive proof".
“The demise of Prigozhin would almost certainly have a deeply destabilising effect on the Wagner Group,” it added.
“His personal attributes of hyper-activity, exceptional audacity, a drive for results and extreme brutality permeated Wagner and are unlikely to be matched by any successor.
“Wagner’s leadership vacuum would be compounded by the reports that founder and field commander Dimitry Utkin and logistics chief Valery Chekalov also died.”
A Pentagon spokesman also said the US believed the Wagner chief was likely killed in the crash.
The West has suggested Putin ordered the assassination of Progozhin, who he believed had betrayed him by staging the June coup against his regime.
Putin broke his silence over the reported death on Thursday night.
The Russian president described the mercenary group boss as “talented person” who "made serious mistakes in life".
He also sent condolences to the families of the people said to be on board when the plane was downed north-west of Moscow.
It comes as a video reportedly highlighting an extraordinary security breach on Prigozhin’s business jet on the day it crashed was released.
It shows how the Embraer Legacy 600 plane was shown to “potential buyers” at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow just hours before it was destroyed amid fears a bomb was planted on board, according to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel.
It comes as the US announced it will begin flight training for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets in October.
The Pentagon said the pilots would start English-language lessons next month before flight training is set to take place at the Morris air national guard base in Tucson, Arizona.
Denmark and the Netherlands have pledged to donate F-16s to Ukraine, fulfilling longstanding calls from president Volodymyr Zelensky for the jets.
Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, on Thursday said his country would also give Ukraine F-16s.