Leader of Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin and commander Dmitry Utkin are thought to have been killed in a plane crash near Moscow yesterday, according to Russia’s civil aviation authority.
Prigozhin and Utkin were on the plane’s passenger list according to Moscow, which claimed that they had both been “on board”. A Telegram channel linked to the Wagner Group also confirmed this.
Wagner Group, a Russian state-funded private military company, was led by Prigozhin and used by Moscow for its operations in Libya and Syria since 2014 and in Mali and other African states.
The 62-year-old leader rebelled against Putin earlier this year in a failed coup with Putin denouncing him as a “traitor”. The coup ended after Prigozhin sought refuge in Belarus following an agreement brokered by President Alexander Lukashenko.
Analysts have questioned whether the plane crash was an accident or a means through which Putin was eradicating a rival.
Commenting on the plane crash, US President Joe Biden said: “I am not surprised […] there is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind.”
The Wagner Group is sanctioned by the US due to allegations of war crimes.