Wagner Group chief Prigozhin reportedly onboard deadly plane crash

Click to play video: 'Wagner Group chief Prigozhin reportedly killed in plane crash'
Wagner Group chief Prigozhin reportedly killed in plane crash
WATCH: Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday north of Moscow with no survivors, Russian authorities said – Aug 23, 2023

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group who led an aborted revolt against President Vladimir Putin earlier this summer, was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday, according to Russia’s aviation agency.

The Federal Air Transport Agency, also known as Rosaviatsiya, published a list of seven passengers and three crew members aboard the plane provided by the aircraft’s owner on its Telegram channel. The list included Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, a top Wagner commander believed to be the original founder of the private military group.

All of the people onboard are believed to have been killed in the crash, according to reports from Reuters, BBC and the Associated Press.

Reuters and The Associated Press quoted a Russian TASS news agency report, which cited Rosaviatsia, Russia’s aviation authority. The BBC cited the Russian aviation authority directly.

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“An investigation has been launched into the Embraer plane crash that occurred tonight in the Tver region. According to the passenger list, among them is the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Rosaviatsiya said, according to those reports.

Click to play video: 'Putin proposes new Wagner boss 1 day after saying mercenary group has no legal basis: report'
Putin proposes new Wagner boss 1 day after saying mercenary group has no legal basis: report

Earlier TASS had reported that 10 people had died after a private jet crashed in Russia’s Tver region north of Moscow while enroute to St. Petersburg from the Russian capital.

Unconfirmed media reports said the jet belonged to Prigozhin, AP reported. It’s not clear at this point whether Prigozhin was actually aboard the plane.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Wednesday the government was aware of the reports.

“I’ll be able to have access to more information soon. I’ll be able to assess the impact, and there will be definitely important diplomatic conversations particularly with our allies in the G7 in the coming days,” she said.

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William Pomeranz, head of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, a think tank, said he didn’t think the Wagner Group could survive without Prigozhin – if he is dead.

“It’s unclear whether Russia will continue to pursue these types of adventures abroad,” Pomeranz said, speaking from Washington.

“I do not think that the Wagner Group survives the loss of Prigozhin unless there is someone who can step up in his shoes and continue Prigozhin’s mercenary appeal around the world.”

On June 23, Prigozhin led a brief mutiny in w

Click to play video: 'Putin met with Wagner leader Prigozhin after aborted rebellion, Kremlin confirms'
Putin met with Wagner leader Prigozhin after aborted rebellion, Kremlin confirms

hich Wagner fighters took control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Donand. His forces were said to be near Moscow when his revolt was defused in a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

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Prigozhin’s forces were key in Russia’s war in Ukraine, but the mercenary leader had made increasingly public criticisms of Moscow’s approach to the invasion. He had initially framed the revolt over an alleged attack on his troops carried out by the Russian military.

Prigozhin has said the mutiny was not aimed at overthrowing the Russian government but as “bringing to justice” the Russian military leaders for what he called their blunders and unprofessional actions in Ukraine.

Putin, who likened the events to the turmoil which engulfed Russia in the run-up to the 1917 Russian Revolution, wanted to “wipe out” Prigozhin during the mutiny, Lukashenko said at the time, and claimed he was persuaded not to by his Belarusian ally.

Lukashenko, both an old acquaintance of Prigozhin and close ally of Putin, said that he had advised the Russian president to think “beyond our own noses” and that Prigozhin’s elimination could lead to a widespread revolt by his fighters.

“I think that everyone realized, in the aftermath of the mutiny, that Prigozhin was living on borrowed time,” Pomeranz said, referring to past suspicious deaths of several prominent Russians shortly after they criticized Putin.

The deaths have not been linked to the Russian president.

Click to play video: 'Wagner boss Prigozhin back in Russia: Lukashenko'
Wagner boss Prigozhin back in Russia: Lukashenko

If Putin was somehow responsible, Pomeranz said, it could show the long-time leader likely reasserting his grip on power by removing a rival.

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Putin’s standing on the world stage has suffered after Ukrainian defenders slowed Russia’s invasion to a halt, after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader (preventing him from attending the BRICS summit alongside other heads of state) and with Russia’s moon lander crashing on Sunday, Pomeranz said.

He also suggested Russia’s security forces could be responsible for Prigozhin’s plane crashing.

“(The security services) are advocating for a stronger push in Ukraine,” he said.

“I think they are pushing for mobilization and I think they are pushing for tighter control of the Russian information space.”

If other actors in Russia besides Putin were responsible, Pomeranz told Global News, it would indicate Putin’s grasp on power is tenuous.

“I think Prigozhin’s death is yet another sign that Putin, Putin’s ability to stay in charge is limited and he will have to use all of his political acumen and his force and all of Russian state power in order to make sure that he stays on top.”

But he added it’s impossible to tell how strong Putin’s position is – and that any confirmation the crash was anything other than an accident is very unlikely.

“It would take an inside source to find out. And it’s very difficult to get access to an inside source who will actually spill the beans in terms of what happened.”

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And he stressed Prigozhin’s death is yet to be confirmed.

Andrew Rasiulis with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute also emphasized the importance of sticking to the facts in this situation, as it will take time to identify the bodies in the wreckage and that the information comes amid reports a second plane registered to Prigozhin landed safely in Moscow around the time of the crash.

However, Rasiulis says it is logical to suspect potential Kremlin involvement if Prigozhin did in fact die in a plane crash.

“The fact is that there was this mutiny and then there was this deal made. And the question is, what is this a forever deal or a short-term deal?” he said.

“It’s complex in Moscow right now. I would not make any guesses there except to say that there are some very interesting power plays taking place.”

Click to play video: 'Wagner chief killed: Makeshift memorial grows in Moscow in memory of Prigozhin'
Wagner chief killed: Makeshift memorial grows in Moscow in memory of Prigozhin

Putin, 70 and in power since 1999, is expected to run for another six-year presidential term in 2024. With Russia waging what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine and locked in what he describes as an existential battle with the West, Putin has said it is vital for the country to remain united.

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Putin has crushed opposition to his leadership within Russia. He main political rival, Alexei Navalny – who survived an assassination attempt – had an extra 19 years added to his 11-1/2 years prison sentence on Aug. 4.

Navalny is already serving sentences on fraud and other charges that he says are bogus. His political movement has been outlawed and declared “extremist.”

— with files from Reuters, The Associated Press and Global News’ Sarah Do Couto and Kathryn Mannie

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