Russia claims that Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash, and its allies blame Putin

 Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, was killed in a plane crash in Russia on Wednesday night. The Russian federal air transport agency said that Prigozhin, who led a failed mutiny against the Russian military in June, was among 10 people – crew members and passengers – who died when the aircraft came down in the Tver region north of Moscow. Allies of Prigozhin claimed the Embraer jet was shot down by Russian air defenses. Dmitry Utkin, the Wagner co-founder, was also reported to be among the dead. UK security sources told The Telegraph that the aircraft had almost certainly been shot down by the FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency, acting on orders from Putin. "Of course it's Putin," said one source.

The crash happened just one day after multiple Russian sources confirmed that General Sergei Surovikin, who reportedly fell out of grace with the Kremlin over his ties to Wagner, had been dismissed as head of the Russian Air Force. Gen Surovikin, also known as "General Armageddon" for his role in flattening the Syrian city of Aleppo, has not been seen in public since June. The crash and the dismissal come as Ukraine's Western-backed counter offensive has largely stalled against stubborn Russian defences.

As the first reports of the crash were breaking on Wednesday evening, Putin took to the stage at a concert in Moscow to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk in the Second World War. He handed out medals to officers and soldiers fighting in Ukraine and thanked them for their service, saying: “I’m proud of you, and I congratulate all Russians on the 80th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Kursk.”

According to Grey Zone, a social media channel with close links to Wagner, local residents had heard “two bursts” of air defence munitions and that contrails in eyewitness videos supported the idea that the aircraft had been shot down. The crash site is around 10 miles from an air force base equipped with air defence systems.

Russia’s federal air transport agency said in a statement that an investigation of the Embraer plane crash that happened in the Tver region this evening was initiated. According to the passenger list, the first and last name of Yevgeny Prigozhin was included in this list. A security source told The Telegraph they were certain Prigozhin was killed on Putin’s orders, saying that Putin functions on two things: loyalty above talent and the consequence of betrayal.

John Foreman, the British defence attache in Moscow from 2019-2022, said the crash was “revenge” by the Russian president, adding that the timing is not accidental. It is two months to the day since Prigozhin had his march on Moscow, his mutiny. Mr. Putin’s revenge has been served on Prigozhin.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said that the demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections – ‘beware! Disloyalty equals death’. Alicia Kearns MP, the chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that the speed at which the Russian government has confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, told Sky News he had heard “some weeks ago” that a contract had been put out on Prigozhin by senior businessmen in Russia. Orysia Lutsevych, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia programme and the head of the Ukraine Forum at the Chatham House think tank, said that Prigozhin was always a threat and a reminder that Putin is weak.


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