Yevgeny Prigozhin, the exiled leader of the Wagner mercenary group, is reported to have been killed alongside nine others in a private jet crash.
Russia’s state news agency Tass reported the jet was travelling from Moscow to St Petersburg when it crashed in Russia’s Tver region, north of Moscow. All ten people onboard, three pilots and seven passengers, were thought to have been killed.
Emergency services later told state-owned news outlet RIA Novosti that eight bodies were found at the crash site.
The jet was one of two used by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who enacted a failed uprising against Vladimir Putin two months ago.
Tass cited information from Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport suggesting that Prigozhin was listed as one of those onboard the jet – though this has not yet been confirmed.
The air transport agency said: “An investigation of the Embraer plane crash that happened in the Tver Region this evening was initiated.
“According to the passenger list, first and last name of Yevgeny Prigozhin was included in this list.”
The co-founder of Wagner Dmitry Utkin was also listed as among those on board, according to Russian sources.
However, it was not confirmed Prigozhin had boarded the plane. His second jet, which was also in flight, turned around in midair after the incident and reportedly landed at Ostafyevo airport.
Less than an hour after the reported jet crash, Vladimir Putin appeared in person on stage in Kursk at an event marking the 80th anniversary of the World War Two-era Battle of Kursk – where he made no reference to the incident.
Once a close associate of Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin had accumulated wealth through a catering business which was handed lucrative contracts – leading to him being dubbed ”Putin’s chef”.
It was around the time that Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 that Prigozhin pivoted to setting up the shadowy Wagner Group, and benefiting substantially from Russian military contracts – though for years, he would deny being in charge of it.
The group gained a reputation for doing the military’s dirty work when unleashed in Ukraine and as an arm of the Russian state in Africa – and became renowned for brutal violence, rapes and war crimes.
Wagner Group proved indispensable to Russia when it launched its full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, but tensions soon emerged between his fighters and the Russian military ranks, with Prigozhin accusing Russian generals of deliberately under-supplying his fighters and engaging in ‘friendly fire’ incidents.
After increasingly outspoken attacks on Russian officials leading the war effort, in late June he led forces across the border into Russia in a short-lived armed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership.
The Wagner forces had set out in the direction of Moscow but agreed to turn around after reported negotiations with Putin – who Wagner had denied they wanted to overthrow.
The Kremlin said he would be exiled to Belarus, and his fighters would either retire, follow him there, or join the Russian military.
More to follow.