Mystery and intrigue surround the crash of a private jet carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the shadowy head of the Wagner mercenary group that has been instrumental in Russia’s war in Ukraine. According to Russia’s civil aviation authority, Mr. Prigozhin was listed as one of the passengers on the crashed plane, which went down Tuesday evening near the village of Kuzhenkino with no survivors among the seven passengers and three crew.
The crash comes amid high tensions within Russia’s defense establishment and reports that a top general was recently dismissed. Hours before the accident, a Telegram channel linked to Wagner reported that Mr. Prigozhin’s plane had been shot down by Russian air defenses in what they alleged was an act of treason. The circumstances remain unclear, but the timing coincides with upheaval in Russia’s military leadership.
Mr. Prigozhin led a bold mutiny against Russia’s armed forces in June that was quelled only after tense negotiations secured concessions from military commanders. But the audacious power play earned him powerful enemies, and analysts say the Kremlin may have been biding its time to mete out punishment.
“Revenge is a dish Putin prefers served cold,” said CIA Director William Burns, alluding to possible behind-the-scenes score settling. President Biden echoed the sense of uncertainty, saying he was “not surprised” by the news.
If confirmed, Mr. Prigozhin’s death would remove a contentious figure who commanded the Wagner Group’s tens of thousands of fighters in Ukraine, Syria, Africa and beyond with little accountability. But it may also fuel new uncertainty around the stability of Russia’s military leadership as its war efforts continue to struggle.