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Russian officials claim Wagner warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin WAS on plane which crashed near Moscow amid growing mystery over his fate – while ‘passenger list’ for doomed jet is published and claims mercenary group’s ‘neo-Nazi’ No2 was also on-board
Russian officials have claimed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was on an ill-fated plane which crashed in a field north of Moscow, killing all ten onboard, two months after his failed coup attempt against Putin’s regime.
The Federal Air Transport Agency published a list of all those it believed were onboard the private jet, including Prigozhin, his deputy Dmitry Utkin and five others, believed to be close allies.
Prigozhin, known as Putin’s chef and with longstanding links to the Kremlin dictator, has long been thought to be a prime target for Russian authorities after his uprising failed and he was exiled to Belarus.
Ten bodies have been retrieved from the wreckage, local emergency services have said, but MailOnline is unable to independently verify whether Prigozhin was one of them.
Reports of a second plane, also linked to Prigozhin, in the area at the time of the crash that later flew to Moscow has fuelled suggestions the warlord cheated death by travelling in a different plane or even that it may be his ruse to escape into exile.
Both state media and Telegram accounts affiliated to Wagner have reported Prigozhin’s and Utkin’s deaths.
While the fate of his bitter rival remained unknown, the Russian President enjoyed a WW2 memorial concert and handed out military honours in Kursk, Russia.
Washington confirmed on Wednesday evening that President Biden has been briefed, and the UK government confirmed it was ‘monitoring the situation closely’.
The plane crash comes amid news that:
- President Putin looked perplexed as he checked his watch anxiously hours before the crash – only to find it on his other arm
- Ukraine successfully destroy Russian tanks using drones and artillery
- Brit Simon Lingard, 38, died while fighting for Ukrainian army, inquest hears
- A smug Putin attends a WW2 memorial concert in Kursk
It was initially unknown if Wagner chief Prigozhin (pictured in a video reportedly filmed in Africa which was released on Monday) – known as the Wagner chief and with longstanding links to the Kremlin dictator – was on board
The plane, which had Prigozhin named as a passenger on its flight list, was later reported to be engulfed in fire, as images on social media claimed to show the wreckage
A man lights a candle at an informal memorial next to the former Wagner Centre in St Petersburg, which has been scattered with dozens of flowers
Witnesses to the crash heard a loud bang before they saw the jet ‘fall from the sky’ – locals on social media are sharing these images of the aftermath, although it is unconfirmed at this stage if this is the plane
Russian TV: Yevgeny Prigozhin listed as passenger in fatal jet crash
of actions by traitors of Russia’.
A post described him as a ‘hero of Russia, a true patriot of his Motherland’.
Wagner deputy and co-founder Dmitry Utkin, widely reported to be a neo-Nazi, is also claimed to have been killed in the crash.
One of the other passengers said to have died, Valeriy Chekalov, has previously been sanctioned by the US due to his links to the Wagner group.
A Wagner address last night stated: ‘We directly say that we suspect the Kremline officials led by Putin of an attempt to kill him!’, the Sun reported.
‘If the information about Prigozhin’s death is confirmed, we will organise a second March of Justice on Moscow!’
Russian State TV Rossiya24 was the first to announce warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death, stating: ‘A private jet flying from Moscow to St Petersburg crashed.
‘Ten people were killed. Yevgeny Prigozhin was among the passengers.’
Ultranationalist pro-war TV channel Tsargrad said the bodies of Yevgeny Prigozhin and fellow military warlord Dmitry Utkin had been identified at the crash site. A genetic analysis was still to be carried out, and authorities have started an investigation, state media reports.
However, Keir Giles, a Russia expert with international affairs think-tank Chatham House, urged caution about reports of Prigozhin’s death.
He said ‘multiple individuals have changed their name to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as part of his efforts to obfuscate his travels’.
‘Let’s not be surprised if he pops up shortly in a new video from Africa,’ Mr Giles said.
Witnesses to the crash heard a loud bang before they saw the jet ‘fall from the sky’.
Images shared on social media purport to show the burning wreckage of the plane in a field in the Tver region, and Russian media says eight bodies have so far been recovered.
Plumes of black smoke can be seen bellowing into the sky, with the wreck completely engulfed in flames.
The numbers 795 can just about be made out on the edge of the scrap pile, which matches the plane linked to the ex-military leader.
Russian police officers have since sealed roads approaching the crash site as a criminal investigation gets underway.
US national security spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the possible death of Prigozhin would not be a surprise given his history with Putin.
‘We have seen the reports’ of the crash and if confirmed, ‘no-one should be surprised,’ she said.
President Joe Biden told reporters: ‘I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised.’
veals Prigozhin plane wreckage ablaze in Tver field
Prigozhin has had long-established links to the Kremlin and until recently led the Wagner mercenary unit
Putin attends concert as news breaks that Prigozhin may be dead
Former Russian presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak said: ‘My sources report that an Embraer plane belonging to Yevgeny Prigozhin has now crashed in the Tver region.
‘Whether Prigozhin himself was on board is unknown.’
Sobchak is known as Putin’s ‘goddaughter’ due to his loyalty to the regime.
But news agency Readovka – linked to Prigozhin – said it was ‘premature’ to say he had died. He regularly ‘confused everyone’ by changing his travel plans at the last minute, the agency said.
A source claimed: ‘The infrastructure [of the plane] was not damaged, the tail fell off in one settlement, everything else in another.
‘The wing also fell off, we don’t know yet what and where. Three people, the pilots, are torn to pieces, to pieces.
‘The rest are in the tail section. Four bodies were picked open, and then it is still not clear. The plane burned out completely.
‘Only the front part, windows and a piece of hardware remained, and a piece of the engine is lying on one wing. Everything else burned out.’
Russian officials said of the ten bodies found, one of them had its head separated from its shoulders.
The grand event in Kursk saw Putin hand out military offers, as his biggest rival’s fate remained unknown
His paramilitary unit had been associated with some of the worst atrocities of the conflict in Ukraine, but Prigozhin’s relationship with the Kremlin broke down over high mortality rates, lack of equipment and lack of wages.
The Russian warlord had previously threatened to withdraw troops from frontline positions if he was not given the supplies he demanded from Putin.
The Wagner Group saw some of the worst fighting in the months leading up to June, with numbers so depleted that Prigozhin recruited thousands of dangerous convicted criminals straight out of prison to join his forces.
In late June, Prigozhin launched an unprecedented verbal attack on President Putin and his allies before marching 25,000 troops towards Moscow.
Having taken the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the army marched north for several hours, forcing the capital into lockdown, before an agreement between him and the government was reached.
The mutiny was ended by negotiations and an apparent Kremlin deal which saw Prigozhin agree to relocate to neighbouring Belarus. But he had appeared to move freely inside Russia after the deal nonetheless.
Shortly after that, Wagner fighters set up camp in Belarus, but Prigozhin’s plane, according to media reports, was flying back and forth between Belarus and Russia.
This week Prigozhin posted his first recruitment video since the mutiny, saying that Wagner is conducting reconnaissance and search activities, and ‘making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free’.
Prigozhin, who had sought to topple Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, had posted the video address just this Monday – but the date of the shoot is unknown.
Prigozhin’s last video: Wagner boss vows to ‘make Russia even greater’