Russia's civil aviation agency, the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia), published a list of the 10 people on board a plane flying from Moscow to Saint Petersburg on Aug. 23. This plane, described as a private business jet, crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Oblast, around the halfway point between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Video footage spreading on Russian news outlets and social media confirms that an aircraft was seen plummeting to the ground in Tver Oblast.
The Rosaviatsia's list includes three crew members onboard the plane. Other Russian authorities claim that eight bodies have already been recovered from the wreckage. It is not clear if Prigozhin's body has been identified. (Related: Top Russian astronomer mysteriously ends up in hospital after FAILED moon mission.)
Other reported passengers on the plane are Dmitry Utkin, the head of Wagner's military operations, and Valery Chekalov, the head of Wagner's security services. Two Wagner veteran officers and two of Prigozhin's bodyguards were also among the listed passengers. The plane's pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant also died in the crash.
While Prigozhin's death is still unconfirmed, both Russian state media as well as Telegram channels affiliated with Wagner have reported his death. Russian federal authorities have announced an investigation into the plane crash and have suggested that the plane carrying Prigozhin may have violated air safety rules.
The plane crash has immediately fueled suspicions regarding possible Kremlin involvement in the crash since the long-term fate of the Wagner founder has been the subject of intense speculation since his short-lived mutiny.
In fact, pro-Wagner sources are already claiming that the plane was shot down by Russian air defenses.
Videos shared on pro-Wagner Telegram channels claim to prove that the plane carrying Prigozhin was shot down because the plane immediately dropped from a large cloud of smoke – a kind of freefall that can occur when an aircraft sustains severe damage. Frame-by-frame analysis by the Associated Press supports the theory that the plane suffered some kind of explosion mid-flight.
Other sources claim to have footage showing a Russian missile striking the aircraft carrying Prigozhin, with one supposed insider source claiming that Russian air defenses shot two S-300 missiles at the aircraft.
Furthermore, Russian sources claim that a second Wagner Group-owned private business jet departed Moscow at around the same time the plane that crashed took off but then turned around and landed back in Moscow around the time of the incident. The existence of this second jet has fueled speculation that Prigozhin may still be alive and that the plane crash was a ruse for him to escape into exile.
"The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Kremlin have been destroying the Wagner private military company and weakening Prigozhin's authority since the rebellion," noted the military-focused think tank the Institute for the Study of War in one of its latest assessments of the ongoing conflicts in Russia and Ukraine.
"Prigozhin was likely attempting to counter the Russian MoD's and the Kremlin's destruction of Wagner," the think tank continued. "The assassination of Wagner's top leadership was likely the final step to eliminate Wagner as an independent organization… Wagner PMC's future without a leader remains uncertain."
"No matter what caused the plane crash, everyone will see it as an act of vengeance and retribution [by the Kremlin, and] the Kremlin wouldn't really stand in the way of that [view]," noted political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow for the think tank the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.
"From Putin's point of view, as well as the security forces and the military – Prigozhin's death must be a lesson to any potential followers," she continued. Stanovaya does not believe there will be much outcry from the Russian public over Prigozhin's death, and that those who supported him will likely be "more scared than inspired to protest."
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Watch this episode of "Judging Freedom" as host Judge Andrew Napolitano and guest former Marine Corps intelligence officer Scott Ritter discuss Prigozhin's possible assassination.