Russia officially confirms Prigozhin’s death in plane crash
By Constant Méheut
Russian authorities have officially confirmed the death of the Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, with investigators saying on Sunday that genetic testing showed that the victims of a plane crash last week matched all the names on the jet’s manifest.
The announcement put an end to several days of speculation over the fate of the mercenary chief, who was presumed to have died in the plane crash on Wednesday, just two months after he launched a failed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. U.S. and Western officials believe the crash was the result of an explosion on board and several have said they think that President Vladimir Putin of Russia may have had Prigozhin killed in retaliation for his mutiny — suggestions the Kremlin on Friday dismissed as an “absolute lie.”
Svetlana Petrenko, a spokesperson for Russia’s investigative committee, said in a statement on Sunday that “the identities of all 10 victims have been established” and that “they correspond to the list stated in the flight manifest.”
Prigozhin and Wagner’s top field commander, Dmitri Utkin, were listed as passengers on the plane. Russian authorities had said they were awaiting the results of an investigation before confirming the identities of the 10 people on board.
In his first comments about the crash,Putin on Thursday spoke obliquely of Prigozhin’s death, referring to him in the past tense. “He made some serious mistakes in life, but he also achieved necessary results,” Putin said.
Prigozhin led the Wagner private military group, which has operated in Syria, Africa and Ukraine to advance the Kremlin’s interests — while gaining a reputation for military effectiveness and severe brutality. In Ukraine, the group shored up Russian forces and drew the Ukrainian military into a costly fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russia captured in May after a nearly yearlong battle.
To build out the private army, Prigozhin recruited thousands of ex-prisoners to join Wagner’s ranks. He also became increasingly critical of the Russian military leadership’s handling of the war in Ukraine, accusing them of corruption and incompetence.
In June, Prigozhin led a short-lived mutiny against the top military leadership.
The rebellion presented Putin with the most dramatic and public challenge to his two-decade rule, and speculation had been rife that the Russian president would not let such an affront go unpunished.