Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed among passengers on a private jet that crashed as it traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Interfax reported, citing Russia’s aviation authority.
(Bloomberg) — Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed among passengers on a private jet that crashed as it traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Interfax reported, citing Russia’s aviation authority.
All three pilots and seven passengers aboard the plane are dead, state-run Tass news service reported late Wednesday. It came down in the Tver region northwest of Moscow.
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There was no immediate confirmation that Prigozhin was actually on board the aircraft. One person close to the Kremlin couldn’t immediately confirm if Prigozhin was on the plane, saying the Wagner leader takes precautions, including the use of a second airplane.
The crash occurred exactly two months after Prigozhin led a mutiny that posed the greatest threat to President Vladimir Putin’s nearly quarter-century rule. Putin had denounced the June rebellion as “treason” but Prigozhin escaped any retaliation by the Kremlin under a deal brokered to end the revolt as his fighters came within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of Moscow.
Since then, Prigozhin had seemed to upstage Putin by appearing in St. Petersburg last month meeting with African officials at the same time as the president was hosting a showcase Russia-Africa summit. His Wagner fighters also avoided punishment under the deal and the mercenary group was allowed to keep some of its extensive operations in Africa.
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US President Joe Biden told reporters, “I don’t know for a fact what happened but I’m not surprised.”
US officials had speculated that Putin would seek to take revenge for the unprecedented rebellion that shattered his image as Russia’s invincible leader and left the US, Europe and China puzzling over the political fallout.
“Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback,” CIA Director William Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum last month.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment Wednesday.
Russian authorities are investigating the circumstances of the jet crash, the press service of the Tver regional government said in a separate statement on its website that gave no details on the identity of the casualties.
The jet, an Embraer SA Legacy 600, flew on what appeared to be a routine route to the northwest for about 12 minutes after departure, according to a preliminary flight track provided by Flightradar24.com.
Putin has been seeking to restore his shaken authority at home since the rebellion, amid rising nationalist anger over the Russian leader’s stalled invasion of Ukraine, now in its 18th month.
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The Russian president is already making preparations for his bid to secure a fifth term in March 2024 elections, even as anxiety spreads among senior officials and business tycoons.
The plunge in the ruble to above 100 per dollar last week has also jangled nerves among officials and prompted the central bank to make an emergency rate hike, amid concerns the currency’s weakness will stoke inflation and erode Russians’ incomes in the run-up to the election.
(An earlier version of this article was corrected to reflect the correct death toll.)
–With assistance from Alan Levin.
(Adds US comment from sixth paragraph.)
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