Kyiv, Ukraine – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the foul-mouthed chief of the Wagner personal military who masterminded an aborted mutiny in opposition to the Kremlin, has not been formally pronounced lifeless.
Russian authorities have but to substantiate through a DNA check that the 62-year-old’s physique was among the many charred and mangled remnants of 10 individuals discovered within the particles of the personal jet that crashed 350km (217 miles) northwest of Moscow late on Wednesday.
Prigozhin was, nonetheless, listed as one of many airplane’s 10 passengers – together with the corporate’s founder and neo-Nazi sympathiser Dmitry Utkin nicknamed Wagner.
Few doubt Prigozhin’s presumed dying that befell precisely two months after the June 23 “justice march” of hundreds of Wagner’s greatest fighters in the direction of Moscow which sowed panic within the Kremlin and reportedly pressured Russian President Vladimir Putin to flee Moscow.
The mutiny – or a “justice march,” in Prigozhin’s phrases – was triggered by a months-old battle with Russia’s Ministry of Defence that delayed or sabotaged ammunition provides to Wagner on the entrance traces of southeastern Ukraine.
The march stopped solely 200km (124 miles) south of Moscow after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko promised Prigozhin and all of Wagner a secure haven in his forested ex-Soviet nation bordering Ukraine.
A high professional on Wagner is all however sure that Prigozhin is lifeless.
“I’ve heard from a supply in Wagner near him that it’s doubtless true,” John Lechner, an investigative reporter in the USA who’s writing a ebook about Prigozhin summarising years of analysis, advised Al Jazeera shortly after Russian media reported the airplane crash.
Al Jazeera was unable to independently confirm the declare.
Lifeless or alive?
However those that doubt the demise cite Prigozhin’s penchant for disguises – and his likelihood to flee to the Central African Republic, Mali or different African nations the place Wagner gives “safety providers” to native strongmen in alternate for a stake in mining and buying and selling native pure assets.
Russian police found a stash of faux passports with Prigozhin’s mugshots and names of different individuals a day after the failed coup, and framed pictures of him carrying wigs, glasses and beards have been present in his St Petersburg mansion and instantly ridiculed in on-line memes.
“It’s good and simple to faux one’s personal dying,” Ukrainian defence professional Maria Kucherenko, who authored an in depth report on Wagner, wrote on Fb late Thursday.
However there aren’t any possibilities of actually faking Prigozhin’s dying in Russia, given the scrutiny of officers and forensics specialists investigating the crash, mentioned an analyst.
“There might have been rumours [of fake death] had he completed it in Africa, however not in Russia, the place a DNA check will likely be rapidly carried out,” Nikolay Mitrokhin of Germany’s College of Bremen advised Al Jazeera.
The DNA checks will likely be scrupulously monitored by the Kremlin provided that the Kremlin is the primary benefactor of Prigozhin’s dying, Mitrokhin mentioned.
“Judging by the sources, the airplane was shot down. That’s what simple to consider. It is vitally useful for Russian authorities who can at all times shift the blame to an [air defence] lieutenant or main who made the error,” he mentioned.
In accordance with a cellphone video purportedly exhibiting Prigozhin’s Legacy Embraer jet midair, it was falling, not gliding down, and apparently had just one engine operating.
A plume of smoke that didn’t resemble exhaust was seen behind the airplane, and its tail and one of many wings fell far aside from the fuselage, which can point out that the crash was brought on by an explosion, in keeping with the pictures and movies from the crash website.
In one other novice video exhibiting the falling airplane, witnesses say they’d heard “two explosions”. Air defence forces routinely shoot at a airplane twice to make sure it’s hit.
A supply in Rosavication, Russia’s principal aviation oversight physique, advised the Tsargrad tv channel that the airplane was “blown up”.
Nonetheless, Flightradar 24, a Swedish plane tracker, mentioned that the Brazilian-made jet went as much as 8,500 metres (28,000 toes).
Only a few air defence weapons can hit a airplane that top – and the Kremlin allegedly used two S-300 missiles, the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel with hyperlinks to Russian regulation enforcement companies claimed.
Putin, a former KGB colonel who headed the FSB, the primary KGB successor, within the late Nineties, is notoriously vindictive.
Kremlin critics cite the case of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB professional on organised crime who accused Putin of cashing in on drug trafficking and cash laundering.
Litvinenko defected to the UK and died an agonising dying in 2006 after ingesting tea laced with radioactive polonium-210, a particularly uncommon and costly poison.
Putin known as Litvinenko a “traitor”, and London mentioned the Russian president “most likely” sanctioned the assassination.
“Traitors” was the epithet Putin utilized in his televised handle on the day of Prigozhin’s mutiny.
And despite the fact that the riot was known as off and Wagner marched again to Russia-occupied areas in southeastern Ukraine, Putin’s fame suffered vastly.
Excessive treason prices in opposition to Wagner chief and officers who shot down a number of Russian plane throughout their march have been dropped a day later.
What’s subsequent for Wagner?
In contrast to different Putin allies preferring to maintain a low profile, Prigozhin was a motormouth.
For months earlier than the mutiny, he lambasted Russia’s high brass.
And after it, hundreds of key Wagner fighters relocated to swiftly constructed camps in Belarusian forests.
Some have been noticed close to the Suwalki Hole close to the Polish-Lithuanian border that separates Belarus from Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic exclave.
Prigozhin visited Russia a number of occasions and even met with Putin, whereas Wagner’s recruitment centres continued to function.
So, Putin might have adopted the instance of cinematic mafia boss Michael Corleone by serving his revenge chilly, a Russian opposition activist mentioned.
“Prigozhin was relocated from the nation. Inside two months, they redistributed his belongings, checked all contact chains, and changed the whole lot within the system that wanted substitute. And now simply removed [Prigozhin and his top lieutenants],” Sergey Bizyukin advised Al Jazeera.
“I don’t know whether or not [Prigozhin] had an opportunity to sit down all of it out in Belarus, however that was his solely teeny-weeny likelihood” to outlive, Bizyukin mentioned.
However since Wagner proved to be so efficient, it could live on and function in Ukraine and elsewhere – even when it’s not simply “bled dry, however decapitated”, in keeping with unbiased navy analyst David Gendelman.
The airplane crash worn out Wagner’s high brass.
One of many killed passengers was Valery Chkalov, a key Prigozhin ally answerable for Wagner’s logistics in Ukraine, Syria and Africa. Others have been key lieutenants Yevgeny Makaryan and Sergey Propustin.
However the firm’s assets, together with battle-tested fighters and easily functioning operations in Africa, are too precious for the Kremlin to let Wagner disband, Gendelman mentioned.
“So, they are going to probably maintain working beneath new management affiliated in some way with Russia’s management. And, maybe, such management has already been organised as a part of preparation to behead the organisation,” he advised Al Jazeera.
However Wagner’s – and Moscow’s – clout in Africa might eclipse due to the rising affect of China and different core members of the now-expanding BRICS bloc.
“Russia’s sway in Africa will weaken no matter personalities on the helm” of Wagner, Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch advised Al Jazeera.