The leader of the Wagner mercenary group is believed to have died in a plane crash in Russia, two months after staging a mutiny against Vladimir Putin. What now for Wagner and Russia’s president?
The warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely to have died in a plane crash, just two months after he staged a mutiny against the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
It seems, remarkably, to have been caught on camera: a plane tumbling out of the sky from 28,000 feet. Filmed 65 miles northwest of Moscow, it’s widely assumed that this footage shows the last seconds of the mercenary leader’s life.
A former hot dog seller turned warlord, Yevgeny Prighozin marched on Moscow in late June after becoming frustrated with the course of the war in Ukraine and how his Wagner fighters were being treated, especially by Russia’s military leadership.
His mercenary group had been Russia’s most effective force in Ukraine and has financial and military interests in Africa.
Prigozhin quickly turned back and his soldiers were reportedly exiled to Belarus, without it being entirely clear why he halted his march. Afterwards he kept a low profile, but, it seems, not low enough.
Yesterday Vladimir Putin referred to Prigozhin in the past tense and offered condolences to his family. Pentagon officials believe he died in the crash.
Putin’s involvement in what happened so far only amounts to speculation. But a US official told CBS News that the plane was probably brought down by an on-board explosion. And no one expected that Prigozhin would go unpunished by Putin, who once said he couldn’t forgive betrayal.
Prigozhin’s presumed death raises questions about the future of the Wagner Group. Tortoise editor Basia Cummings described it as having a “galaxy of operations” which are unlikely to disintegrate with the loss of Prigozhin, even if the force is diminished.
As for Putin, Prigozhin’s death may strengthen the Russian leader’s position if it deters those thinking about questioning his regime. But equally Wagner fighters might seek revenge. The crash might even spark dissent from elites if it leads them to conclude that the president will no longer reliably protect their interests.
If recent events in Russia teach us anything at all, it’s that we can only make predictions. No one quite knows what will happen next.
Today’s episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Imy Harper.