Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner group commander Dmitry Utkin were among 10 people on board a plane involved in a fatal crash north of Moscow on Wednesday, Russian civil aviation authority Rosaviatsia said.
Rosaviatsia published the names of seven passengers, including Prigozhin and Utkin, and three crew members it said had been on board.
All ten people on board the aircraft died in the crash, according to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. RIA Novosti reported that emergency services said that eight bodies were found at the crash site.
The plane was on its way from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
Бізнес-джет упав у Тверській області Россі, усі 7 осіб, що були на борту, загинули, пишуть російські Telegram-канали. Пишуть, що цей літак належав Пригожину pic.twitter.com/kzb8GLB6Fu— Українська правда ✌️ (@ukrpravda_news) August 23, 2023
Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency said that Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on the aircraft, although it remains unconfirmed if he was on the plane when it crashed. Initial reports by Russia media indicated that Dmitry Utkin, a high-ranking commander in the Wagner Group close to Prigozhin, was killed in the crash as well.
Russian journalist Andrey Zakharov stated on his Telegram channel that Prigozhin flew today from Africa to Russia and was being accompanied by the entire command staff of the Wagner Group.
Vladimir Rogov, an administrator for Russia in the occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast, stated on Telegram that he had spoken with Wagner members who confirmed that Prigozhin and Utkin had been killed in the crash.
US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the plane crash, the White House told US media. White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson posted on X on Wednesday evening "We have seen the reports. If confirmed, no one should be surprised."
We have seen the reports. If confirmed, no one should be surprised. https://t.co/V81y3P8hzI— Adrienne Watson (@NSC_Spox) August 23, 2023
Prigozin's failed mutiny
In June, Prigozhin was exiled from Russia to Belarus as part of a deal reached after a mutiny by the Wagner Group against the Russian military during which members of the militia briefly captured the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and then marched towards Moscow.
In July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated that Prigozhin had moved to St. Petersburg in Russia and may have moved on to Moscow.
On Monday, a video was published on social media showing a person appearing to be Prigozhin in a desert-like area saying "Wagner is conducting reconnaissance and search operations, making Russia even greater on every continent — and Africa even more free." Prigozhin added in the video that he was hiring "real strong men."
It is unclear when and where exactly the video was filmed.
Biden says report of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin's death not surprising
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he was not surprised by reports that Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin may have died in a plane crash, adding that not much happens in the country that President Vladimir Putin is not behind.
Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening north of Moscow with no survivors, Russian authorities said earlier.
There was no confirmation that Prigozhin was physically on board and Reuters could not immediately confirm that he was on the aircraft.
"I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised," Biden told reporters.
"There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer."
Prigozhin, 62, spearheaded a mutiny against Russia's top army brass on June 23-24, which Putin said could have tipped Russia into civil war.
Biden and CIA Director Williams Burns spoke separately last month of the potential danger to Prigozhin, although somewhat in jest.
"If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d be keeping my eye on my menu," Biden said during a news conference with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto in July.
"But all kidding aside...I don't think any of us know for sure what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia."
Speaking a week later at the Aspen Security Forum in July, CIA Director William Burns said: "I think Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold ... If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn't fire my food taster."
Prigozhin's June mutiny was ended by negotiations and an apparent Kremlin deal that saw him agree to relocate to neighboring Belarus. But he appeared to move freely inside Russia after the deal nonetheless.
Embraer jet that crashed had good safety record
The Embraer executive jet model that crashed in Russia, apparently with Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin onboard, has only ever recorded one accident in over 20 years of service, and that was due to mistakes by the crew rather than mechanical failure, according to website International Aviation HQ.
Russian authorities said Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening, killing all those onboard. Russia's TASS news agency said the plane was a Brazilian Embraer jet.
Embraer on Wednesday declined to comment, saying only that "Embraer has complied with international sanctions imposed on Russia." Sanctions block Western plane makers from providing parts or support for planes operated in Russia.
Flightradar24 online tracker showed that the Embraer Legacy 600 (plane number RA-02795) said to be carrying Prigozhin had dropped off the radar at 6:11 p.m. local time. An unverified video on social media showed a plane resembling a private jet falling out of the sky toward the Earth.
The Legacy 600 entered service in 2002, according to International Aviation HQ, with almost 300 produced until production ceased in 2020.
There is only one recorded accident involving a Legacy 600, which occurred in 2006 when it crashed mid-air into a Gol 737-800 on its way from the Embraer factory in Brazil to the United States, International Aviation HQ said. Despite damages to the aircraft, the pilot landed the plane and there were no deaths or injuries.
A subsequent inquiry attributed blame to the crew rather than any mechanical failure, the website said.