Update(1605ET): At this point it’s looking like the entire top command of Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group was aboard the private plane that was downed northwest of Moscow hours ago. Wagner itself is confirming Yvgeny Prigozhin’s death, with Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel Grey Zone calling it a “murder”.
“The murder/assassination of Prigozhin will have catastrophic consequences. The people who gave the order do not understand the mood in the army and morale at all. Let this be a lesson to all. You always have to go to the end,” the Wagner channel statement reads.
The bodies of Prigozhin and his second-in-command Dmitry Utkin, have reportedly been identified, according to statements which have been quick to come out of Russian media. Russian news agency TASS has also made it official: “Evgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin were on board the crashed Embraer plane, the Federal Air Transport Agency reported.”
Russian authorities have said eight bodies have been recovered thus far. FT has summarized the following details of emerging Wagner statements:
A post by Grey Zone, a Wagner-connected social media channel, claimed Russian anti-aircraft defences had shot down the plane. It said that residents heard “two bursts of characteristic air defense fire” before the crash. “This is confirmed by inversion traces in the sky in one of the videos,” it added. Mash, a news outlet on social media app Telegram, said locals had heard two loud bangs before the crash.
The same report cited a Western official to say it was an anti-aircraft missile that struck the private jet:
A western official said they had been told the plane had been brought down by a Russian anti-aircraft missile system but could not confirm whether Prigozhin was on board, adding: “Putin doesn’t take prisoners.”
Alicia Kearns, Chair of the UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has observed in the aftermath, “The speed at which the Russian Govt has confirmed Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know.”
President Biden (who is apparently already back on vacation) has been briefed this afternoon, and told reporters from Lake Tahoe that he’s “not surprised” when asked about Prigozhin’s reported death. “I don’t know for fact what happened, but I am not surprised,” Biden said according to Bloomberg. He then pointed the finger at the Russian President: “Not much happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” Biden added.
Suddenly some of the mainstream is calling Prigozhin a “dissident” – a very strange choice of words considering his complicated role in the Ukraine war…
The internet has exploded with an avalanche breaking reports that Wagner chief Yvgeny Prigozhin’s business jet has crashed over Russia’s Tver region, northwest of Moscow.
Unconfirmed reports say anywhere from seven to ten people were on board, all presumed dead – but it was initially unclear if Prigozhin himself was on board at the time. Russian media sources are now confirming that he was on board the downed plane, and is presumed dead.