Wreckage of the plane that crashed near the town of Kuzhenkino, Russia Wreckage of the plane that crashed near the town of Kuzhenkino, Russia  (AFP or licensors)

Ukraine denies killing leader of Russia's Wagner mercenaries

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied Ukrainian involvement in the reported death of Russia's Wagner mercenary group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash near Moscow. He spoke after Wagner vowed revenge over the death of its leader, who led a brief mutiny in June that shook Russia's military establishment.

By Stefan J. Bos

Those who witnessed the crash expressed shock. Footage showed a plane falling from the sky here near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region northwest of Russia's capital.

The private business jet - an Embraer Legacy 600 reportedly carrying Russia's Wagner mercenary group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin -  crashed before the eyes of worried residents. There were no survivors.

Rosaviatsia, Russia's aviation agency, soon published the names of all 10 people on board the crashed plane. Among them, the 62-year-old Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, his right-hand man who helped found the mercenary group and bore the call sign "Wagner."

Russian media quoted sources saying that one or more surface-to-air missiles had shot the plane down, but there was no independent confirmation.

Yet British defense sources said Thursday that Russia's security service FSB was likely responsible for downing the plane to punish Prigozhin for a brief mutiny he led in June.

Russia military

The mutiny targeted Russia's military leadership but also threatened the authority of Russian President Vladimir Putin as Wagner troops approached Moscow. The revolt broke out after Prigozhin expressed frustration over how Russia had been conducting its invasion of Ukraine. 

Putin was reportedly at a concert when the plane came down late Wednesday. President Putin and the Kremlin were yet to comment on the crash.

Yet Ukrainian President Zelensky denied that his nation was responsible adding that “everyone is aware of who is involved.”

Prigozhin's death leaves the Wagner group leaderless and raises questions about its future operations in Africa and elsewhere. But with Wagner mercenaries vowing to avenge the death of their leader, a new period of instability in Russia was likely at a time when its military fights in neighboring Ukraine.

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24 August 2023, 17:07