Prigozhin updates: Wagner chief believed dead in Russia plane crash

Prigozhin updates: Wagner chief believed dead in Russia plane crash
There has been no official comment from the Kremlin or the Russian defence ministry on the fate of Yevgeny Prigozhin but a Telegram channel linked to his Wagner mercenary group, Grey Zone, pronounced him dead.
9 min read

Residents of a village near the site of a plane crash which is believed to have killed Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said they had heard a bang, then saw the jet plummet to the ground.

The plane, an Embraer Legacy 600private jet, crashed on Wednesday near the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia's Tver region on its way from Moscow to St Petersburg and killed all 10 people on board – seven passengers and three crew members.

There has been no official comment from the Kremlin or the defence ministry on the fate of Prigozhin but a Telegram channel linked to his Wagner mercenary group, Grey Zone, pronounced him dead.

A Reuters reporter at the crash site early on Thursday saw men taking away black body bags on stretchers.

Part of the plane's blue-and-white liveried tail and other fragments lay on the ground near a wooded area.

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Forensic investigators had erected a tent and lighting gear. Parts of the wreckage lay near what appeared to be a half-built abandoned structure.

Kuzhenkino resident Vitaly Stepenok, 72, told Reuters: "I hear an explosion or a bang. Usually, if an explosion happens on the ground then you get an echo, but it was just a bang and I looked up and saw white smoke."

"One wing flew off in one direction and the fuselage went like that," he said, gesturing with his arms to show how the plane headed down towards the ground.

"And then it glided down on one wing. It didn't nose-dive, it was gliding."


Featured images: WAGNER TELEGRAM ACCOUNT / HANDOUT/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

6:04 PM
The New Arab Staff

This concludes The New Arab's live coverage of the aftermath of the plane crash believed to have killed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russian mercenary group Wagner.

You can keep up to date with this and other stories from the Middle East, North Africa and beyond on our FacebookInstagram and Twitter pages.

5:50 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Putin says Prigozhin made 'mistakes' but 'achieved results'

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday expressed his "condolences" over the plane crash that killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, describing him as a man who made mistakes but "achieved results".

An investigation is currently underway into what caused Wednesday's crash, which came exactly two months after Wagner's short-lived rebellion against Moscow's military leadership.

"First of all I want to express words of sincere condolences to the families of all the victims," Putin said in a televised meeting, calling the incident a "tragedy".

"I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 90s. He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life, but he achieved the right results," Putin added.

He said that an investigation had been launched into the crash, and that "it will take some time".

"It will be conducted in full and brought to a conclusion. There is no doubt about that," Putin said, in footage showing a meeting with the Russian-installed head of the Donetsk region Denis Pushilin.

The circumstances of the crash, which claimed the lives of some of Prigozhin's close entourage, have prompted furious speculation about a possible assassination.

4:36 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

US believes missile inside Russia likely shot down Prigozhin's presumed plane: officials

The United States believes a surface-to-air missile originating from inside Russia likely shot down the plane presumed to be carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday, two US officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, stressed that the information was still preliminary and under review.

Russian air authorities have said Prigozhin, his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin and eight other people were on the private plane that crashed with no survivors north of Moscow on Wednesday.


3:59 PM
The New Arab Staff

Prigozhin death makes 'little difference', Lithuania says

The presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin does not improve regional security, Lithuania's president said on Thursday, adding that fighters from the Russian mercenary group remained in Ukraine's neighbour Belarus.

"We really shouldn't think that Prigozhin's death makes us feel calmer or that it somehow improves the security situation," Gitanas Nauseda said.

Lithuania, a Baltic country on NATO's eastern flank, has been warning of risks that the group may pose since its fighters moved to Belarus after a short-lived rebellion in Russia in June.

According to Russian officials, the head of the group was on board a plane that crashed on Wednesday, with all passengers killed.

But according to Nauseda, Prigozhin's death, even if confirmed, "makes little difference" to regional security.

In similar remarks Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the Wagner group was now "under direct supervision of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his people".

"Even more than before, or at least to the same extent as today, it will be used as a tool of provocation, blackmail… to destabilise countries bordering Russia and Belarus," Morawiecki told reporters.

Both Vilnius and Warsaw had previously suggested that Wagner mercenaries could help facilitate illegal migration from Belarus or even enter the countries disguised as irregular migrants.

Last week, Lithuania closed two out of six its border checkpoints with Belarus.

2:50 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Plane crash believed to have killed Russian mercenary chief seen as Kremlin's revenge

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and some of his top lieutenants were presumed dead in a plane crash – widely seen Thursday as an assassination to avenge a mutiny that challenged President Vladimir Putin's authority.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, said his country was not involved. "We have nothing to do with this. Everyone understands who does," Zelensky said.

Prigozhin supporters claimed on pro-Wagner messaging app channels that the plane was deliberately downed, including suggesting it could have been hit by an air defence missile or targeted by a bomb on board. Those claims could not be independently verified.

Russian authorities have said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

"It is no coincidence that the whole world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced ex-confidant of Putin suddenly falls from the sky, two months after he attempted an uprising,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, while acknowledging that the facts were still unclear.

"We know this pattern… in Putin's Russia – deaths and dubious suicides, falls from windows that all ultimately remain unexplained," she added.

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1:46 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Zelensky says Ukraine had 'nothing to do' with Prigozhin plane crash

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said his country had "nothing to do" with the presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash, instead implying the Kremlin's responsibility.

"We have nothing to do with this situation, that's for sure. I think everyone knows who this concerns," he told reporters a day after a private jet on which Prigozhin was registered as a passenger crashed between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

12:00 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Prigozhin's plane appeared fine on radar until last 30 seconds

The Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet believed to have carried Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin to his death on Wednesday showed no sign of problem until a precipitous drop in its final 30 seconds, according to flight-tracking data.

Rosaviatsia, Russia's aviation agency said Prigozhin, who led an aborted mutiny in June, was one of 10 people on board the downed plane. It was traveling from Moscow to St Petersburg when it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region, Russia's emergency situations ministry said.

At 15:19 GMT, the aircraft made a "sudden downward vertical", said Ian Petchenik of Flightradar24. Within about 30 seconds, the aircraft had plummeted more than 8,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet.

"Whatever happened, happened quickly," Petchenik said.

"They may have been wrestling [with the aircraft] after whatever happened," Petchenik said. But prior to its dramatic drop, there was "no indication that there was anything wrong with this aircraft".

The jet was identified on Flightradar24 with registration RA-02795, the same as the plane that carried Prigozhin to Belarus after Wagner's June mutiny, an industry source familiar with the matter said.

Flightradar24 last recorded the position of the aircraft at 15:11 GMT, before the crash. Jamming or interference in the area probably slowed the collection of further location data.

Other data continued for nine minutes. Flightradar24 said the jet went thorough a series of ascents and descents of a few thousand feet each over 30 seconds before its final, disastrous plunge. Flightradar24 received its final data on the jet at 15:20.


10:50 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Prigozhin 'murderer' who 'won't be missed': Belarus opposition head

The exiled leader of the opposition of Belarus, where some Wagner fighters moved after their short-lived mutiny in Russia, said on Wednesday that no Belarusian would miss Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is feared dead in a plane crash.

"The criminal Prigozhin won't be missed in Belarus. He was a murderer & should be remembered as such. His death might dismantle Wagner's presence in Belarus, reducing the threat to our nation & neighbours," Belarusian opposition chief Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on social media.

10:47 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Embraer jet model that crashed, reportedly carrying Prigozhin, had good safety record

The Embraer executive jet model that crashed in Russia, apparently with Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin onboard, has only recorded one accident in more than 20 years of service, and that was not related to mechanical failure.

Russian authorities said Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening, killing all those onboard. Russia's TASS news agency said the plane was a Brazilian Embraer jet.

Embraer said it was aware of a plane crash in Russia involving a Legacy 600 aircraft, but it did not have further information about the case and had not been providing support services for the jet since 2019.

"Embraer has complied with international sanctions imposed on Russia," the planemaker said. Sanctions block Western planemakers from providing parts or support for planes operated in Russia.

Flightradar24 online tracker showed that the Embraer Legacy 600 (plane number RA-02795) said to be carrying Prigozhin had dropped off the radar at 18:11 local time (1511 GMT).

An unverified video on social media showed a plane resembling a private jet falling out of the sky toward the earth.


10:43 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

France sees 'reasonable doubts' over Prigozhin plane crash

France said on Thursday that there were "reasonable doubts" about the cause of the plane crash that presumably killed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's Wagner paramilitary group.

"We don't yet know the circumstances of this crash. We can have some reasonable doubts," government spokesman Olivier Veran told France 2 television.

Asked about US President Joe Biden's claim that little "happens in Russia that [President Vladimir] Putin is not behind", Veran agreed that "as a general rule, that's a truth that can be established".

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