Wagner says its chief has been buried, ending days of speculation
By Valerie Hopkins
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary chief who died in a plane crash last week, has been buried in a private ceremony in St. Petersburg, his press service said Tuesday, ending days of speculation over how he would be laid to rest.
The announcement on the Telegram messaging app came as a surprise. Hours earlier, the Kremlin said it had no information about Prigozhin’s funeral except that President Vladimir Putin would not attend.
Prigozhin’s funeral “took place in a private format,” his press service said. “Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoye cemetery” in St. Petersburg.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Porokhovskoye cemetery was being heavily guarded by Russian police, riot police and national guard members, who did not allow people to enter, suggesting the lengths the state has gone to to keep the public mourning for Prigozhin at a minimum.
Details about Prigozhin’s funeral, including the date and whether members of the public would be allowed to attend, were unclear for days. Rumors had swirled about ceremonies at other cemeteries, though Porokhovskoye had not been mentioned, and police had cordoned off some of them and set up metal detectors at the Serafimovsky Cemetery, where Putin’s parents are buried.
The secrecy reflected the sensitivities surrounding Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Putin who launched a failed mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership in June. He was killed along with nine others, including top leaders of his Wagner private military company, in the crash of a private jet northwest of Moscow last Wednesday.
Prigozhin had received the Hero of Russia designation, one of the Russian military’s top honors, which generally accords special burials, including an honor guard and a military band.
The confusion was in line with the murky details about the crash. Its cause remains unclear, but U.S. and Western officials believe it was prompted by an explosion on board. Many Western officials have said they think it is likely Putin may have played a role in having Prigozhin killed as retribution for the mercenary chief’s short-lived mutiny in June.
After the crash, Russian authorities released the plane’s flight manifest, showing the names of the 10 people who were supposed to be on board, and said that all aboard had been killed. That left room for days of speculation about whether Prigozhin was really on the plane.
The deaths were not officially confirmed until Sunday, when Russian investigators said that genetic testing showed that the victims of the crash matched the names on the manifest.
Wagner’s logistics chief, Valery Chekalov, who was also on the plane, was buried Tuesday morning in Northern Cemetery in St. Petersburg, in a ceremony that was not publicized in advance. Several hundred people came to pay their respects.
Some analysts speculated that Russian authorities were seeking to avoid a public outpouring of support for Prigozhin and his top lieutenants.
“It seems that the authorities, as expected, want to avoid a spontaneous rally in memory of the top leadership of Wagner and to do so, have imposed a fog around the burial place,” Farida Rustamova, an independent journalist, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.