Wagner mercenary chief Prigozhin reported to have died in plane crash

Death reported by Russian state television and social media channel affiliated with Wagner group

The Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was reported to have died in a private jet that crashed late on Wednesday, two months after he staged a failed mutiny against president Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The official state television Russia 24 reported Mr Prigozhin’s death, which was also earlier reported by his own Grey Zone channel on the social media network Telegram.

Rosaviatsia, the Russian aviation authority, said Mr Prigozhin was one of the passengers listed as being on board the Embraer business jet that crashed in the Tver region near Moscow, killing all 10 on board.

On June 24th, Mr Prigozhin’s mercenary group Wagner captured the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and marched nearly 600km north towards Moscow.


Up to 29 Russian military were killed by Mr Prigozhin’s forces, who shot down a command aircraft and helicopters and captured two vehicles. The Wagner group lost two men and five vehicles.

For one day, the overthrow of Russian president Vladimir Putin seemed possible.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said he negotiated a deal under which Mr Prigozhin and his militia would relocate to Belarus.

There was widespread speculation that Mr Prigozhin’s days were numbered. Suspicion of foul play immediately focused on the Kremlin.

Mr Prigozhin’s Embraer aircraft had taken off less than half an hour earlier and was en route from Moscow for his hometown of St Petersburg. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but a Prigozhin-related Telegram channel reported that it was shot down by an S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery.

Eyewitnesses said they heard two explosions and saw white vapour trails before the burning plane crashed to the ground.

All seven passengers, said to include Mr Prigozhin, and three crew members were killed.

Mr Prigozhin’s death would bring to a close the extraordinary saga of a petty criminal and former convict from St Peterburg who became a food-taster to the Russian president, built a media empire specialising in propaganda, and founded a vicious mercenary group that propped up Arab and African dictators in exchange for oil reserves, gold and diamond mines.

Wagner was named after the call-sign of Mr Prigozhin’s deputy, Dmitry Utkin, a neo-Nazi who is also believed to have died in the crash.

Mr Prigozhin combed Russian prisons for mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, offering amnesty and a clean record to any fighter who survived six months of combat.

The Wagner men were hardened criminals who have committed some of the worst war crimes in the Ukraine war.

Wagner took credit for the conquest of the Soledar salt mine and the town of Bakhmut. The group tortured Ukrainian prisoners before clubbing them to death with sledgehammers.

Dressed in camouflage, Mr Prigozhin posted videos of himself on the battlefield in Ukraine haranguing the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of staff Valery Gerasimov for allegedly starving his Wagner militia of weapons. Mr Putin never commented officially or intervened in their quarrel.

Ilya Pomonarev, a sworn enemy of Mr Putin who is based in Kyiv, told The Irish Times: “As much as we wanted to do the same, we did not have equipment on the ground to do it. So I think we should point fingers at the Kremlin, but I have doubts it was Putin’s orders. I think it was Shoigu’s anti-missile defence at work.”

Mr Prigozhin’s death would be “good news indeed,” said Mr Ponomarev.

Mr Prigozhin posted his first video since the June mutiny two days before his death. It showed him in camouflage and holding an assault rifle. He appeared to be in Africa and said Russia would make the continent free.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor