REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo
- Russian media said Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a plane that crashed Wednesday.
- All 10 people on the business jet died, but it’s unclear if the Wagner Group leader was actually on board.
- US officials said that if the reports of his death are confirmed, “no one should be surprised.”
US officials say “no one should be surprised” if Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin actually died in a plane crash on Wednesday. Though his fate remains uncertain, Russian state media reported that his name was on the passenger list for the jet that went down, killing everyone on board.
A private jet that was traveling between Moscow and St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening crashed in the Tver region, just outside of Moscow, state-run news agency TASS reported. All 10 people on board — including three pilots and seven passengers — are reported to have died. Although Prigozhin’s name was included on the list of passengers, it’s not immediately clear if the mercenary boss was actually on the aircraft.
“We have seen the reports. If confirmed, no one should be surprised,” White House National Security Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement shared with Insider.
A US State Department spokesperson reiterated that point and added that “the disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now — it would seem — to this.”
The plane crash happened exactly two months after Prigozhin incited a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, setting off a series of high-level purges and internal power shifts. The Wagner boss appeared at first to have escaped without significant punishment, but Western officials predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin might still seek revenge.
“Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best-served cold,” CIA Director Bill Burns told a security forum in July. “In my experience, Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback, so I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution for this.”
President Joe Biden even joked at one point that if he were Prigozhin, he would be extremely vigilant. “If I were he, I would be careful what I ate. I would be keeping an eye on my menu,” Biden told reporters last month, apparently alluding to past poisonings of people who crossed Putin. There’s a laundry list of adversaries who Putin is suspected of having killed during his time in power.
Prigozhin’s whereabouts since the armed rebellion have been somewhat of a mystery. Belarus brokered negotiations between Russia and Wagner to end the chaos, and the resulting agreement saw Prigozhin cast into exile in the neighboring country, with his mercenaries given a chance to join him.
Wagner Group fighters eventually began training Belarus’ soldiers at a military camp where Prigozhin was spotted in July. Prigozhin said that month that his mercenaries would stay in Belarus for some time before eventually traveling to Africa, where Wagner is present in several countries and has been accused of committing widespread atrocities.
Prigozhin recently appeared in a video that surfaced earlier this week and was purportedly filmed from an undisclosed location in Africa, although Insider could not confirm his presence there. It’s not immediately clear if Prigozhin then traveled to Russia and was aboard the doomed flight.
Some Wagner-affiliated social media channels claimed on Wednesday that the plane was downed by Russia’s air-defense systems, but it’s unclear what caused the plane to crash. Moscow’s defense ministry has not yet commented on the incident. Investigations into the crash appear to be ongoing.