Yevgeny Prigozhin, the infamous leader of the Wagner mercenary group, is reportedly dead following a jet crash in Russia.
The country’s Federal Agency for Air Transport revealed that Prigozhin, along with nine others, likely perished in the incident.
Although the agency indicated Prigozhin’s presence on the flight, NBC News has yet to independently verify this information.
If proven true, it would mark a sudden and dramatic end for the former ally of President Vladimir Putin and a figure associated with global conflict, including engagements in Ukraine, Syria, Mali, and the Central African Republic.
US and European allies are actively assessing the crash for clarity, according to a Western official speaking to NBC News.
The remains of all ten individuals aboard the Embraer Legacy jet have been discovered, as confirmed by emergency services quoted by the Interfax agency.
The passenger list posted on Telegram included another senior Wagner official, Dmitry Utkin, suggesting a potential decapitation of the organization’s leadership structure.
A Telegram channel linked to the Wagner mercenary group claimed Prigozhin’s death, attributing it to actions by alleged traitors of Russia.
Russian officials have yet to provide immediate comment, though state media reports an official investigation is underway.
Keir Giles, a Russia expert at the international affairs think tank Chatham House, advises caution amid the reports of Prigozhin’s demise.
Prigozhin’s Disappearance: Mimicked Identities and Muted March
Giles notes that multiple individuals have changed their names to mimic Prigozhin’s, potentially as part of his efforts to obscure his movements.
Since Wagner fighters’ capture of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia two months ago, Prigozhin’s whereabouts have remained unknown.
The group’s abortive march toward Moscow came to a halt around 120 miles south of the capital.
An agreement between Prigozhin, Putin, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stipulated Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus, along with options for Wagner fighters to align with the Russian Defense Ministry.
The enigmatic figure’s relationship with the Kremlin has puzzled many observers. Leading up to the mutiny, Prigozhin criticized Russia’s top military leadership, highlighting their incompetence during the conflict in Ukraine.
Despite Putin’s initial labeling of Wagner’s actions as treason, it appeared Prigozhin might escape significant repercussions.
In the West, doubts about Prigozhin’s fate persist.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern at the Aspen Security Forum, suggesting that Prigozhin should be vigilant given NATO’s open-door policy and Russia’s perceived ‘open windows policy.’
Once known as Putin’s ‘chef,’ Prigozhin’s public profile evolved as he embraced the Wagner Group’s activities. Videos depicted him in military attire, actively involved in operations.
A recent video seemingly showed Prigozhin in a desert-like setting, pledging to enhance Africa’s freedom and elevate Russia’s stature worldwide. The video’s authenticity remains unverified by NBC News.
Source: NBC News