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Private jet crashes in Russia with Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’

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Private jet crashes in Russia with Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’ 51

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that led a mutiny against Russia’s army in June, is on the list of passengers of a plane that has crashed in Russia.

“The plane that crashed in the Tver Region listed Yevgeny Prigozhin among its passengers, [Russia’s aviation agency] Rosaviatsia said,” Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, with RIA Novosti and Interfax issuing similar reports.

However, it was not immediately clear if he had boarded the flight.

“There were 10 people on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, all those on board died,” Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations said shortly before.

The Embraer aircraft, en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, was carrying seven passengers and three crew, TASS reported on Wednesday.

Private jet crashes in Russia with Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘on board’ 52

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that led a mutiny against Russia’s army in June, is on the list of passengers of a plane that has crashed in Russia.

“The plane that crashed in the Tver Region listed Yevgeny Prigozhin among its passengers, [Russia’s aviation agency] Rosaviatsia said,” Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, with RIA Novosti and Interfax issuing similar reports.

However, it was not immediately clear if he had boarded the flight.

“There were 10 people on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, all those on board died,” Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations said shortly before.

The Embraer aircraft, en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, was carrying seven passengers and three crew, TASS reported on Wednesday.

At about 17:00 GMT, the ministry announced that a “private Embraer Legacy aircraft travelling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region”. It said it was conducting search operations.

Daniel Hawkins, a journalist in Moscow, told Al Jazeera that “reports in the Russian media, unconfirmed so far, are saying this aircraft could have been taken down by air defence systems”.

“Prigozhin was among those on board or was at least listed as among those people on board.

“Some journalists report they’re in touch with his press secretary who is refusing to confirm that. A second jet was also in the air that’s turned around and gone back to St Petersburg.”

Prigozhin led a short-lived armed rebellion against the Russian leadership in June, posing the gravest challenge ever to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade grip on power.

Prigozhin had his mercenaries occupy the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and then sent military columns marching towards Moscow.

He called the Russian military leadership corrupt and incompetent. He had complained for months of inadequate munitions and supplies for his fighters serving on the front lines of Putin’s war in Ukraine.

At the time, Putin described the revolt as “treason”.

But shortly before his troops reached Moscow, Prigozhin ordered a retreat after negotiations with the Kremlin, in which Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko acted as mediator.

As part of the deal reached to escape prosecution, Prigozhin and his Wagner fighters were offered sanctuary in Belarus.

The possible death of Prigozhin would not be a surprise given his falling out with Putin, a senior White House official said.

“We have seen the reports” of the crash, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “If confirmed, no one should be surprised,” she said. “The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now – it would seem – to this.”

Experts are still being cautious about whether Prigozhin was on the plane that crashed. But some have said that regardless of the outcome, Prigozhin has been a marked man.

“We don’t know all the details yet, but if it turns out that it is what it seems to be, it’s absolutely no coincidence,” said Colin Clarke of the Soufan Group, speaking to Al Jazeera from Pittsburgh in the United States.

“Ever since the mutiny in late June, in which he embarrassed [Russian President] Putin, he’s been a marked man. Many were surprised it [his killing] didn’t happen instantly, but this is something that everybody thought was inevitable.”

Source: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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