/ 27 August 2023

Moscow confirms Wagner boss Prigozhin’s death

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ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - AUGUST 24: People lay carnations to a memorial as they pay tribute to Yevgeny Prigozhin who died in a plane crash, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on August 24, 2023. (Vladimir Alexandrov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was formally confirmed dead on Sunday following genetic analysis, investigators said, as anger and questions over what caused his plane to crash earlier in the week continued to mount.

Speculation that the Kremlin may have been involved in the crash has been rife, with the incident coming exactly two months after Wagner staged a mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership.

“Molecular-genetic examinations have been completed as part of the investigation into the plane crash in the Tver region,” Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman from Russia’s investigative committee said. 

“According to their results, the identities of all 10 victims were established, they correspond to the list stated in the flight list,” she added.

Among the nine other people listed onboard the Embraer private jet that crashed on Wednesday was Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner’s operations and allegedly served in Russian military intelligence.

Makeshift memorials

Russian officials opened an investigation into air traffic violations after the crash but have otherwise not disclosed details about its possible cause.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as “tragic” to reporters on Friday, calling rumours of possible foul play an “absolute lie”.

His comments came as the Kremlin appeared to rein in groups like Wagner, with a presidential decree signed Friday stipulating that paramilitary fighters will have to swear an oath to the Russian flag.

In an address Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said he had known Prigozhin — once a loyal ally — since the early 1990s, describing him as a man who made mistakes but “achieved results”.

But his comments did little to stem mounting questions and anger over the mercenary’s chief’s death, with makeshift shrines to Prigozhin springing up across Russian cities.

Men stood solemnly in front of a makeshift memorial on Moscow’s Varvarka Street, just outside the Kremlin.

“He was killed,” said one man wearing a shirt marked with the letter “Z”, a symbol representing Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. 

“He was killed by his enemies. We won’t say who. The investigation will reveal. But we hope that revenge will catch up with those who committed this crime,” he added.

Another man at the memorial speculated over who was responsible for the Wagner chief’s death. “Prigozhin had a lot of enemies in our country, abroad, in Ukraine and Africa,” said Renat, 53.

Wagner forces, which Moscow used to prosecute some of the Ukraine conflict’s bloodiest battles, also maintained a significant military presence in Africa.Similar memorials were spotted across the country, in cities like Perm and Saint Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital and Prigozhin’s birthplace. — AFP