The Russian Investigative Committee looking into a plane clash near Moscow this week confirmed on Sunday that Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin died in the crash. The committee said that two other top Wagner leaders were among the 10 deceased.
The committee said that forensic and genetic testing were used to confirm the identities of all the 10 deceased, including Prigozhin.
A plane with seven passengers and three crew members crashed in Tver region, which falls north-west of Moscow, on Wednesday. The flight manifest released by Russian authorities at the time showed Prigozhin as a passenger. All 10 persons onboard were confirmed as dead and Prigozhin was also presumed dead.
Earlier, the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported that Russian Investigative Committee as saying that molecular genetic tests were being carried out to identify the deceased.
"The Embraer passenger jet plane en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg crashed in the Tver Region on Wednesday evening. According to preliminary information, 10 people were aboard, all of them were killed in the crash. The Federal Agency for Air Transport of Russia said that Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger," said the TASS report earlier.
Prigozhin's second-in-command Dmitry Utkin and Wagner logistics mastermind Valery Chekalov were also were killed in the crash, reported Associated Press, adding that Utkin was long believed to have founded Wagner and baptized the group with his nom de guerre.
Prigozhin's death comes within months of his daylong mutiny against the country's defence leadership. In June, Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group has had prominent role in Ukraine War and and delivered Russia some of the most significant victories, including in the bloodiest Battle of Bakhmut, mounted a rebellion against the country's defence leadership. The Wagner merceneries captured the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, which oversees Ukraine War efforts, and reached within 200 kms of Moscow. The mutiny ended in a compromise.
Experts have said that Prigozhin's mutiny brought forth the internal strife in Russia and a struggle of power. They have said that Prigozhin would have never mutinied if he did not have support from inside the Russian government, particularly the internal security establishment. In bringing to the world's knowledge Putin's weakness to control the power struggle around him, he is said by some to have antogonised Putin.
While Western officials have hinted at Putin's potential role in Prigozhin's killing, the Russian governmetn has called it "absolute lie".
"One of the Western officials who described the initial assessment said it determined that Prigozhin was “very likely” targeted and that an explosion would be in line with Putin's 'long history of trying to silence his critics'," reported AP.
In the absence of Prigozhin and his two top deputies, the fate of Wagner appears uncertian. Besides Ukraine, Wagner has worked as the sword arm of the Russian state in the Middle East and Africa where it has supported pro-Russian regimes, done political works, and is engaged in natural resources extraction and other commercial activities. Following the mutiny, several thousands of Wagner personnel relocated to Belarus and are staying there. The Russian government has also called upon Wagner personnel to sign contracts with the Russian government.
Western officials and even US President Joe Biden have hinted at possible role of Putin in the accident involving Prigozhin.
"There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer," said Biden
"Western intelligence officials have briefed media that Prigozhin was most likely to have been killed by an explosion onboard the plane on President Putin’s orders," reported Guardian.
The New York Times reported, "Some European leaders, many Western news outlets and people close to Mr. Prigozhin’s Wagner paramilitary force have speculated that Mr. Putin had Mr. Prigozhin killed in retaliation for his brief mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in June.