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Prigozhin's plane 'almost certainly' downed on Putin's order - ISW report

Prigozhin's plane 'almost certainly' downed on Putin's order - ISW report Vladimir Putin, Russian dictator (photo: Getty Images)

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin most likely ordered the military command to shoot down the plane carrying the leader of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, attempting to publicly reassert his 'dominance' and seek revenge for the humiliation following the mercenaries' coup on June 24, states the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in the report.

Experts have noted that representatives of the Russian Federation, especially Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, would unlikely have targeted Prigozhin without an order from Putin.

"The entirety of the Russian political and security sphere likely viewed Prigozhin’s continued survival following Wagner’s rebellion as at Putin’s discretion," the publication states.

Therefore, ISW has indicated that they will make their assessments based on the assumption that Putin ordered Prigozhin's killing unless evidence to the contrary emerges. However, earlier analysts believed that the Kremlin leader would be unlikely to eliminate the Wagner leader for fear of angering the mercenaries within this group.

The speculation is raised that Putin may have concluded that he had sufficiently separated Prigozhin from the Wagner PMC and could eliminate him without turning him into a "martyr" for the remaining group of militants.

Some Wagner commanders recently betrayed this organization in favor of the PMC "Redut," which is connected to the Russian Ministry of Defense. This suggests that the Kremlin's efforts, along with the Russian military agency, to detach elements of Wagner loyal to Prigozhin may have been partially successful.

Alternatively, Putin might have decided that Prigozhin had crossed a pre-established "red line," possibly in an attempt to maintain Wagner PMC's access to operations in Africa.

"Putin, Prigozhin, and Lukashenko may have included an agreement in the deal that ended Wagner’s rebellion that required Prigozhin to limit his and Wagner's media presence and/or curtail Wagner's operations in Africa," states the report.

On August 21, a video featuring "Prigozhin" emerged claiming that the "Wagner militants" were expanding their presence in Africa. Anticipated repeated attempts by Prigozhin to thwart the Russian Ministry of Defense's efforts to replace the Wagner PMC contingent in Africa fully may have also crossed a pre-established "red line" limiting the operations of these mercenaries on the African continent.

"Putin may have decided that Prigozhin had violated enough aspects or all of the pre-established deal," write ISW experts in their report.

Analysts also add that Putin had been contemplating Prigozhin's elimination for some time, and the downing of the Wagner PMC leader's plane on August 23 could have been a coincidental occurrence. However, such a scenario is considered unlikely by the Institute for the Study of War.

"Putin’s almost certain order for the Russian MoD to shoot down Prigozhin’s plane is likely a public attempt to reassert his dominance and exact vengeance for the humiliation that the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion on June 24 caused Putin and the Russian MoD" the report states.

ISW also suggests that the Kremlin seems to be creating conditions to shield Putin and Russian military officials from direct responsibility for Prigozhin's killing.

Of course, Rosaviatsiya has established a special commission to investigate the technical condition of the crashed plane, meteorological conditions along its flight route, and the operations of air traffic control services and ground radio equipment.

Additionally, the Russian Investigative Committee has initiated a criminal case alleging violations of safety and operation rules for air transport.

A Kremlin-affiliated "war correspondent" noted that the Investigative Committee might choose the "erroneous" activation of air defense systems as the primary version of events, considering the claimed strikes by Ukrainian drones on Moscow.

A Russian insider source has stated that the plane crash is likely to be classified as a terrorist act that occurred on board, and Russian State Duma deputy Yevgeny Popov has already echoed this version in Russian media.

Key findings:

  • The leader of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and the founder of the group, Dmitry Utkin, died after a Russian military plane carrying Wagner PMC leadership was shot down over the Tver region.

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense and the Kremlin have been dismantling the private military company Wagner and weakening Prigozhin's authority since the uprising. The killing of the senior leadership of the Wagner PMC was likely the final step towards liquidating the group as an independent organization.

  • Prigozhin probably tried to resist the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Kremlin's efforts to dismantle the Wagner PMC, and the future of the organization remains uncertain.

  • Specific individuals who may have been planning to oppose Putin, the Kremlin, or the Russian Ministry of Defense likely took into account the final fate of Prigozhin and recent measures aimed at confirming Kremlin support for the senior military leadership.

  • The Kremlin appears to be creating conditions to remove open responsibility for Prigozhin's killing from Putin and the Russian military.

  • Further tactically significant successes by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the area of Robotyne and its surroundings in the western part of the Zaporizhzhia region are expanding breakthroughs in Ukrainian troops on Russian defensive lines in this area and are threatening the second-tier defense lines of the occupiers.

  • Ukrainian Forces likely targeted a Russian S-400 air defense system in occupied Crimea on August 23.

  • Russian Forces conducted offensive operations on August 23 along the line of Kupiansk - Svatove - Kreminna, in the vicinity of Bakhmut, and along the Avdiivka - Donetsk city line but did not achieve confirmed successes.

Plane crash with Prigozhin in Tver region

On Wednesday, August 23, in the Tver region of Russia, an Embraer Legacy 600 plane crashed with 10 people on board. Rosaviatsiya published the names of all passengers, including Prigozhin, the commander of the Wagner PMC, Dmitry Utkin, Prigozhin's deputy Valery Chekalov, and several other mercenaries.

Official confirmation of Prigozhin's death has not been provided yet, but rescuers informed the Russian propaganda agency "Interfax" that they had found the remains of all 10 passengers of the plane.

In Russia, some "war correspondents" suggest the version of the plane being shot down by air defense systems. Additionally, a Western official told the Financial Times that they had information about the jet being downed by a Russian anti-aircraft missile system.

Previously, RBC-Ukraine collected information about what is known about the crash of the Wagner PMC leader's plane in Russia.