Wagner's Prigozhin presumed dead
A private aircraft reportedly carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group warlord who launched a failed mutiny against the Kremlin back in June, has crashed outside Moscow, killing all 10 aboard, according to Russian state media.
Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency says it is investigating the cause of the crash in the Tver region north of Moscow, which happened 30 minutes after the jet, headed for St. Petersburg, took off. Moscow says that Prigozhin’s name was included on the passenger list.
Remarkably, some Wagner troops have claimed that the plane was shot down by … Russian defense forces, presumably on Putin’s orders. This has not been confirmed.
It’s not a huge surprise that the man who posed the biggest threat to Putin’s reign in decades might have turned up dead almost two months to the day since the botched mutiny. At the time, GZERO President Ian Bremmer said it was just a matter of time before Prigozhin would meet his end.
Indeed, when CIA chief Bill Burns was asked recently why Prigozhin was still alive – a nod to the many people who’ve mysteriously fallen out of windows during Putin’s tenure – he implied that the Wagner chief should certainly still be sleeping with one eye open: “Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback,” he said.
Much is still unknown about the circumstances of the crash, but it comes just days after the Wagner chief released a video, the first since June, claiming to be in Africa furthering Russia’s interest throughout the continent. It also coincided with news that Gen. Sergei Surovikin had reportedly been relieved of his command of Russia's aerospace forces.
Looking ahead. Now that the mercenary group is leaderless, what does it mean for Wagner’s vast operations across Africa? What will happen to the reported 10,000 Wagner troops exiled in Belarus? And if it’s confirmed that the Russian military did in fact shoot down the plane, how will the thousands of enraged, battle-hardened Wagner fighters, many of whom listed prison as their last known address, respond?