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Putin strikes back: Prigozhin reportedly killed in Russia

Updated: May 23

On the 23rd of August, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Private Military Company, died in a plane crash on the outskirts of Moscow.


As Vladimir Putin addressed the Russian people, celebrating the 80th anniversary of the battle of Kursk, a private jet carrying Prigozhin fell in the Tver Oblast. Two explosions followed an uncontrolled spiral. Reports suggest ten were onboard.  


One of those accompanying the man once known as "Putin's Chef" was Dmitry Utkin, Wagner's alleged founder. Famous for his SS tattoos and time as a Lieutenant General in the Russian special forces. His own call sign was supposedly "Wagner", after which he named the private military organisation.  


It is being reported that Propustin Sergey, Makaryan Evgeniy, Totmin Alexander, Chekalov Valeriy, Matuseev Nikolay, and crew members Levshin Aleksei, Karimov Rustam and Raspopova Kristina were also onboard.


A second plane, flying with them from St. Petersburg, landed shortly after.


Genetic testing is to be carried out soon to confirm identities.


Now, questions as to the nature of their deaths are being raised.


There are suggestions that the Kremlin intentionally shot the plane down. Undoubtedly, the Wagner Group has given Putin plenty of reason for their feud to escalate beyond posturing and threat.  


Prigozhin has continually undermined the authority of the Russian military in Ukraine. The leader of the Wagner group claimed Russian military officials were intentionally withholding ammunition and materials from their troops on the Ukrainian front line. Prigozhin asserted that they were not receiving the necessary resources as part of an ongoing rivalry between themselves and the Russian military.


The tensions escalated to their highest point two months ago, when on the 23rd of June, the Wagner Group attempted - but quickly abandoned - a coup against the Russian Federation. The following day, Putin stated that "all those who deliberately embarked on the path of betrayal will suffer inevitable punishment".


At the beginning of the year, reports showed that the Kremlin had installed short-to-medium-range anti-air missile systems in Moscow. Footage circulating on telegram and other platforms suggests that the plane was shot down, with the two explosions shown being consistent with the anti-air weaponry installed at the Russian capital.


There is currently no clarity regarding the actual events of the plane crash. However, it seems likely that the Kremlin has downed the craft to destabilise the Wagner Group and its leadership structure.


Wagner has been expanding its role abroad, especially in the Sahel, aiding the governments rallying against the French and American military presence in the region. The group has also been growing its influence in Belarus as of late, presenting another threat to Putin's authority in Eastern Europe - not to mention Wagner's influence in the Middle East.


Once the strong arm of the Kremlin, the Wagner Private Military Company defied the credibility and power of the Russian government and its army on one too many occasions.


It was only a matter of time before Putin struck back.

Image: Prachatai


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