Russian Aviation Agency: Wagner Chief Prigozhin Was Aboard Small Plane That Crashed And Burned. Biden Says “Not Surprised”.

This image released and watermarked by Ostorozhno Novosti on Aug. 23, 2023, shows the crash site of a private jet near Kuzhenkino, Russia. Russia's civil aviation agency says mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was aboard the plane and was one of 10 people killed.
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Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who attempted brief an armed rebellion and coup against the President Putin  earlier this year, was aboard a private jet that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday, killing all 10 people on board, according to Russia’s civil aviation agency. Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin was on the same jet.

The crash immediately raised suspicion that the rebel leader had been assassinated by the Kremlin and that the aircraft he was traveling in had been shot down.

At the time, President Vladimir Putin denounced the rebellion and vowed to avenge it, but the treason charges against Prigozhin were soon dropped. The Wagner chief, whose troops were some of the best fighting forces for Russia in Ukraine, was allowed to retreat to Belarus, while making occasional appearances in Russia.

The crash also came after Russian media reported that a top general linked to Prigozhin had been dismissed from his position as commander of the air force.

The plane that crashed Wednesday carried three pilots and seven passengers and was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It went down almost 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of the capital, according to officials cited by Russia’s state news agency Tass.

Russia’s civilian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, quickly reported that he was on the manifest and later said that, according to the airline, he was indeed on board.

Earlier, Vladimir Rogov, a Russia-appointed official in the partly occupied Zaporizhzhia region in Ukraine, said he’d talked to Wagner commanders who also confirmed that Prigozhin was aboard, as was Dmitry Utkin, whose call sign Wagner became the company’s name.

Flight tracking data reviewed by The Associated Press showed a private jet that Prigozhin had used previously took off from Moscow on Wednesday evening and its transponder signal disappeared minutes later.

The signal stopped suddenly while the plane was at altitude and traveling at speed. In an image posted by a pro-Wagner social media account showing burning wreckage, a partial tail number matching a jet previously used by Prigozhin could be seen.

Videos shared by the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone showed a plane dropping like a stone from a large cloud of smoke, twisting as it fell.

Such freefalls can occur when an aircraft sustains severe damage, and a frame-by-frame analysis by the AP of two videos were consistent with some sort of explosion midflight. The images appeared to show the plane was missing a wing.

Russia’s Investigative Committee opened an investigation into the crash on charges of violating air safety rules, as is typical when they open such probes.

If it is ever proven that the mid-air destruction of a plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin was an act of deliberate, cold-blooded revenge by the Kremlin, this will go down in Russian history as the ultimate “special military operation”.

Prigozhin, a former convict, chef and hot dog salesman-turned mercenary boss, had a lot of admirers amongst the ranks of his Wagner mercenary army and beyond. Many will have witnessed his warm reception by the public in Rostov-on-Don when he turned up there exactly two months ago in the throes of his aborted one-day rebellion.

“I don’t know for a fact what happened,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the crash, “but I’m not surprised.”

Sources: VOA, AP.BBC.
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