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The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under Putin

The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under Putin Photo: Death of Yevgeny Prigozhin could be a revenge for the June mutiny (Russian media)

Two months after an aborted mutiny in Russia, the plane of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed. His death is seen as a symbolic revenge by Vladimir Putin.

About Prigozhin's elimination, possible consequences, and what the Russian president should prepare for, read in the article by RBC-Ukraine.

The fall of Prigozhin

On the evening of August 23, at around 6.11 pm, the business jet Embraer Legacy 600 with registration number RA-02795, flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, disappeared from radar. Shortly after, videos and initial reports of the crash appeared on the Internet.

Warning! The video contains obscene language

The plane crashed near the town of Kuzhenkino in the Bologovsky district of the Tver region. Russian social media reported that witnesses heard two explosions in the sky before the crash. Debris was scattered over several kilometers, with some parts falling on a railway station. Civilian areas and buildings were not affected.

The town is close to Lake Valdai, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has a residence. Approximately 50 kilometers from the crash site is a military airbase and air defense systems.

Information that the business jet belonged to the Wagner PMC founder Yevgeny Prigozhin emerged shortly after that. According to the Important Stories online media, the Embraer Legacy 600 had been flying to Minsk after the failed coup attempt in June. The aircraft had been under U.S. sanctions since 2019.

All 10 people on board, including 3 crew members and 7 passengers, perished in the crash.

Who was on the plane

According to Rosaviatsiya (the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency), Prigozhin was listed as a passenger. He was accompanied by:

  • Dmitry Utkin, one of the founders of Wagner PMC.
  • Valery Chekalov, Prigozhin's deputy in PMC (responsible for internal security).
  • Yevgeny Makaryan, a PMC fighter (listed on the Peacemaker website).
  • Alexander Totmin, a PMC fighter (listed on the Peacemaker website).
  • Sergey Propustin, a PMC fighter (listed on the Peacemaker website).
  • Nikolai Matusev, likely another Wagner fighter.

Russian journalist Andrey Zakharov reported, citing sources, that Prigozhin and the PMC leadership indeed flew to Russia from Africa on August 23.

The bodies of the deceased were severely damaged and not visually identifiable. However, Telegram channels claim that Prigozhin's body was recognized in the Tver regional morgue due to the absence of a finger. His associate Dmitry Utkin was reportedly identified by his height and tattoos.

Multiple versions of plane crash causes

Russian investigators are considering all possibilities, including pilot error, technical malfunctions, and external interference. The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case for violations of air traffic safety and operation.

Currently, there is a strong focus on the version involving an explosion. Supposedly, an explosive device could have been planted in the landing gear. The explosion occurred in the landing gear zone. As a result, the wing supposedly detached and struck the stabilizer. This caused the aircraft to gain altitude and then sharply drop.

Due to the explosive decompression, everyone inside lost consciousness instantly. Supposedly, this is why the crew couldn't report the emergency.

The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under PutinPhoto: rescuers at the plane crash site (Getty Images)

The investigators will question everyone who had access to the hangar where the Embraer Legacy was undergoing repairs a few days before the flight. One of the possible suspects is Artyom Stepanov. He is Prigozhin's personal pilot who went on vacation and traveled to Kamchatka before the incident. Currently, law enforcement agencies are actively searching for him, and his brother has stated that Stepanov has been out of contact for three days.

Stepanov is also a former co-founder of the MNT Aero company, which owns this aircraft.

As for the possibility of technical malfunction, the Brazilian company Embraer says that the Legacy 600 model has a good safety record. Since 2002, nearly 300 units have been produced, and there has been only one crash by now, in 2006 when a Legacy 600 collided in the sky with a Boeing 737-800 of the GOL airlines.

Embraer states it has not provided maintenance services for the Legacy 600 since 2019 and adheres to international sanctions against Russia, meaning it does not service Russian aircraft.

Oleksandr Musiienko, the head of the Center for Military-Political Studies, does not rule out that technical malfunction will eventually become the official version. He said, "I am almost certain that they will say that due to Western sanctions against Russian aviation, there was no access to certain spare parts and components. So, the plane caught fire, exploded, crashed, and so on. I think this will be the explanation," he told RBC-Ukraine.

Experts tend to lean towards the third version - that air defense systems were involved in the destruction of Prigozhin's business jet. Previously, so-called Z-channels had mentioned this possibility. Channels close to the Wagner Group reported that the plane was shot down by an air defense complex subordinate to the Russian Ministry of Defense, either a Buk or an S-300/400, as S-300 systems are deployed not far from the crash site.

According to Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military-political observer for the Information Resistance project, the Legacy 600 could have been shot down by a Buk or an S-300/400, which covers Moscow. He said, "We saw the plane falling, with a trail from the burning engine behind it. Most likely, the impact was directly on it. A Buk (Russian air defense system), for example, targets interception along the trajectory, which means the impact would be on the pilots' cabin. In this case, the impact on various parts of the engine and fuselage most likely indicates the involvement of S-300 or S-400."

Financial Times, citing an unnamed Western official, reports that there is information that Prigozhin's plane was shot down by a Russian air defense system.

Reactions to the incident

One of the first reactions to the elimination of Prigozhin came from the United States. President Joe Biden suggested that Vladimir Putin could be behind it personally and reminded that he had warned about the possible consequences of the Wagner coup in July. "I don't know for sure what happened, but I'm not surprised," he added.

Olivier Véran, the spokesperson for the French government, expressed "legitimate doubts" about the causes of the plane crash and agreed with the American president's statement that not much happens in Russia without Putin's knowledge.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasized that with or without Wagner PMC, Moscow would continue its "cynical game" not only in Ukraine but also in African countries.

The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under Putin

Photo: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed speculations about the alleged involvement of Ukraine (

According to Mykhaylo Podolyak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, the elimination of Prigozhin could have been a signal to Putin's political opponents and the Russian elite. He wrote on Twitter, "Obviously, Putin never forgives his own beastly fear, which zeroed him out in June 2023, and waited for this moment. It is also clear that Prigozhin signed his own death sentence when he believed in strange 'guarantees from Lukashenko' and no less absurd 'honest word of Putin'."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed speculations about Ukraine's possible involvement. "We have nothing to do with this situation, that's for sure. I think everyone understands who is involved," he said.

Putin or Shoigu/Gerasimov? Who could be behind Prigozhin's elimination

The plane carrying Wagner leaders crashed exactly two months after the so-called "march of justice" on Moscow. In June, after Wagner camps were allegedly struck, Prigozhin captured a command center in Rostov and sent columns toward the Russian capital.

On the way, the mercenaries shot down several helicopters and planes attempting to stop them. The Wagner Group managed to cover hundreds of kilometers, but with the participation of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the conflict was supposedly resolved. Some of the fighters were transferred to Belarus under Lukashenko's guarantees, while Putin allowed others to switch to military contracts or return home.

Now, many are recalling how in one of his interviews, the President of Russia said that he could not forgive only betrayal. On June 24, he used this word against the Wagner leaders.

The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under PutinPhoto: Vladimir Putin or Sergey Shoigu with Valery Gerasimov could be behind the elimination of Prigozhin (Getty Images)

"This is not some unfortunate accident; it's a 100% liquidation. You could say that yesterday Putin demonstratively marked two months since the march on Moscow. Why after two months? The elimination of Prigozhin was just a matter of time. Perhaps they were considering the best way to carry it out," said expert Oleksandr Kovalenko in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

Analysts from the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) emphasize that most likely Putin ordered the military command to shoot down the plane as revenge for the coup attempt. Without such an order, neither Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, with whom Prigozhin had a permanent conflict, would have dared to take such action.

However, expert Oleksandr Musiienko believes that Shoigu and Gerasimov already had sufficient motivation for a public act of revenge. They wanted to demonstrate their power and influence.

"I think that after Putin lost trust, he has lost a lot of influence on many processes in Russia. Of course, he still has some opportunities, but there is a power struggle going on in Russia between the FSB and the military. Therefore, Putin has to accept what is happening around him because it is a condition for preserving his presidency," he explained.

How the situation will evolve in Russia

Musiienko says that according to the logic of recent events, the score is 2:0 in favor of Shoigu and Gerasimov. First, it became known that the commander of the Military Space Forces, Sergey Surovikin, who was a part of the "hawks" advocating for the destruction of Ukraine within the military, was fired. Now, the top of Wagner is eliminated.

"Next, there should obviously be an FSB response. Perhaps they will try to take some actions that could harm Russian troops on Russian territory. For example, sabotage on some objects to discredit the military leadership. In any case, I think there should be a response," the expert believes.

According to him, Putin is increasingly becoming dependent on the position of the so-called "collective Politburo."

"Patrushev (Secretary of the Security Council) and his company are trying to influence the processes. In fact, there is a struggle for who will take power after Putin leaves. From this point of view, there are certainly threats to Putin," he added.

The end of Prigozhin: Who is behind his elimination and what awaits Russia under PutinPhoto: In Russia, there is already a power struggle after Vladimir Putin's leave (Getty Images)

After news of Prigozhin's plane crash, social media close to the Wagner PMC spread threats that they might repeat the march on Moscow. Oleksandr Kovalenko doubts this. In his view, there have been enough nights for street fights and clashes on the Frunzenskaya Embankment, where military buildings are located in Moscow.

"The most active part of the Wagner fighters is in Belarus, without heavy weapons. Despite their bold statements on social media, nothing has been done to start the process of avenging their leader. So, there shouldn't be any high expectations. Wagner has simply been dispersed and Prigozhin was eliminated," the expert noted.

Instead, those who supported the founder of the PMC have not disappeared. However, Kovalenko believes that Prigozhin's backers do not have enough opportunities to openly oppose Putin. Currently, there is no one willing to take on the role that Prigozhin once played.

"He couldn't bring the cause to an end. Any revolution must have some kind of conclusion. In June, it wasn't there. Prigozhin couldn't bring the uprising to a conclusion, and that was the end of Prigozhin," he emphasized.

What will happen to Wagner mercenaries

Recently, the Belaruski Hayun monitoring group reported abnormal activity of the Wagner PMC. In particular, for the first time in a month, a military transport plane Il-76 landed at the Machulishchi airfield, and there were communication problems in the mercenaries' camp. Currently, the fighters are not leaving the country, but the situation, as Hayun notes, is constantly changing.

Kovalenko believes that after the elimination of Prigozhin, the integration of the mercenaries into the Russian armed forces will intensify. First, they will force those in Russia to sign contracts, and then they will deal with those in Belarus.

"They won't have a choice because if they don't integrate into the Russian Armed Forces, they won't exist at all," the expert stressed.

Oleksandr Musiienko says that the leadership of the PMC will be replaced with someone from the Ministry of Defense, and the Wagner PMC will be controlled by Shoigu. After that, they will continue to carry out missions both in Belarus and Africa.

In any case, the situation with Prigozhin and his brainchild demonstrates that neither Lukashenko's nor Putin's guarantees are worth much. "Everything they promise is just for a 'good word.' Their promises are not fulfilled. One should have understood a long time ago that Lukashenko's words do not follow any guarantees," Musiienko concluded.