Wagner Group Mercenary Chief Confirmed Dead in Plane Crash

Wagner Group Mercenary Chief Confirmed Dead in Plane Crash

Russian officials have confirmed the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner Group mercenary company, following genetic analysis of the bodies recovered from a recent plane crash. After conducting molecular genetic examinations, the identities of all 10 deceased individuals were established to match the list provided in the flight sheet of the aircraft that went down north of Moscow. Prigozhin, along with his trusted lieutenants Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov, were listed on the plane’s manifest, along with four other passengers and three crew members.

The private jet was en route to St. Petersburg when it crashed 60 miles north of Moscow, exactly two months after Prigozhin’s failed coup attempt against President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the incident, dismissing speculation that the crash was a retaliatory assassination for Prigozhin’s mutiny. In late June, Wagner fighters led by Prigozhin captured the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don before marching towards Moscow. However, they were eventually halted 120 miles south of the capital through a deal brokered by the President of Belarus.

Prigozhin remained in mystery since then, although he appeared in a video suggesting that he was in Africa, conducting reconnaissance work. Russian President Putin indirectly acknowledged Prigozhin’s death, referring to him as a talented businessman with a complicated fate who had made serious mistakes in his life. In an attempt to enforce stricter state control over private mercenary groups, Putin subsequently ordered the Wagner Group and other fighters to swear allegiance to the Russian state and adhere to the commands of commanders and senior leaders.

Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef,” initially rose to power through lucrative catering contracts for Kremlin events and later founded the Wagner Group in 2014. The group has since operated in Syria, Mali, the Central African Republic, and other countries. Prigozhin was previously sanctioned by the U.S. intelligence community for his involvement in the creation of the Internet Research Agency, a bot farm that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Despite his denial of association with the mercenaries, he began to gain a more public profile after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, appearing in videos and becoming a leading voice for hardliners critical of the Kremlin’s approach to the war.

The death of Prigozhin and his senior commanders has created a void in the leadership of the Wagner Group.