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Prigozhin“s right-hand man in Wagner buried quietly near Moscow

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Portraits of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, and Dmitry Utkin, group commander, are seen at a makeshift memorial in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia August 27, 2023. REUTERS/Anastasia Makarycheva/File Photo

The co-founder and military commander of the Russian mercenary group Wagner was buried near Moscow on Thursday, after dying in an unexplained plane crash that also killed his boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Dmitry Utkin, 53, whose call-sign “Wagner” gave the private army its name, was buried in Mytishchi, on the outskirts of the capital, in a ceremony cordoned off by Russian military police, according to the popular online news channel Shot.

Prigozhin had been buried on Tuesday in an equally discreet ceremony in his hometown of St Petersburg that contrasted starkly with his loud and often foul-mouthed presence on social media.

Before helping to found Wagner as Prigozhin’s shadowy right-hand man, Utkin served as a special forces officer in the GRU military intelligence service, where he held the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He fought for Wagner to support Moscow’s military campaigns in Syria and Ukraine, and was photographed in 2016 at the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin.

At the end of June, a source told Reuters that Utkin was the leader of an armed convoy of Wagner mutineers that advanced towards Moscow to back Prigozhin’s demand that the military leadership resign over its failures in what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The short-lived mutiny posed the biggest challenge to Putin’s rule since he rose to power in 1999, prompting the president to accuse its authors of “treason” and a “stab in the back”.

Utkin, Prigozhin and Wagner’s head of logistics, Valery Chekalov, were among 10 people who died when Prigozhin’s Embraer Legacy 600 private jet plunged from the sky north of Moscow on Aug. 23.

Many critics of Putin have died in unclear circumstances during his 23 years in power, or narrowly escaped dying.

The Kremlin says all possible causes of the crash will be investigated, including the scenario of foul play. It has rejected as an “absolute lie” the suggestion that Putin ordered the deaths of Prigozhin and his men.

After a deal ended the mutiny, Utkin said in a speech to Wagner fighters: “This is not the end. This is just the beginning of the biggest work in the world that will be carried out very soon,” adding in English: “And welcome to hell!”

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