Wagner Leader Killed in Probable Putin Hit Job

A view of the crash site of the private jet carrying 10 people, including Wagner paramilitary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, in Russia’s Tver region on August 23.
Investigative Committee of Russia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Wagner Leader Killed in Probable Putin Hit Job

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, died yesterday in a plane crash. Around 6 p.m. Moscow time, Prigozhin was flying from Saint Petersburg to Moscow when his private jet fell from the sky and crashed.

A Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel stated Russian air defense shot down Prigozhin’s plane. The plane was carrying 10 passengers, including Dmitri Utkin, Wagner’s cofounder.

Yesterday was two months to the day when Prigozhin’s Wagner forces attempted a coup against the Russian government. Wagner Group was arguably the most successful of Russia’s troops in the ongoing Ukraine war. Prigozhin, however, accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of incompetence and starving Wagner of supplies. His mutiny’s aim was to get new leadership in charge of the war effort.

Since then, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko had brokered a deal to give Prigozhin and his loyal acolytes refuge in Belarus in exchange for Wagner’s assimilation into the Russian military. But Prigozhin had reportedly stuck around in Russia for a time. He appeared at the Saint Petersburg Russia-Africa summit last month. A recent video surfaced suggesting he was somewhere in Africa. If the Belarussian deal was legitimate, it looks like Prigozhin wasn’t sticking to his end of the bargain.

When Prigozhin launched his mutiny in June, many analysts wondered if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s days were numbered. If Putin couldn’t control his own soldiers, how much power did he actually have? In contrast, the Trumpet wrote:

[W]e do not agree with those who claim his demise is imminent. We believe he will not be ousted by Yevgeny Prigozhin or any other person. In fact, the mutiny may even prompt the “prince of Russia” to enter a new phase of ruthless conquest, both inside Russia and in its periphery.

Time is proving this forecast correct.

Prigozhin was disloyal and power-hungry, so perhaps his fate shouldn’t surprise anybody. As Le Figaro stated, “Was there any other way out?”

Prigozhin’s mutiny did not diminish Putin’s power. If anything, it made Putin more irate. As the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, we can expect Putin to put his foot down more and more.

To learn more, read “After the Mutiny, Are Vladimir Putin’s Days Numbered?