There are still doubts about the Wagner leader's demise
Yesterday evening, Russia’s civil aviation agency reported the death of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, after his name was listed among the passengers of a jet which crashed in the Tver region, north-west of the capital. All 10 on board, three crew and seven passengers, were killed, according to Russian state media.
While Moscow-based broadcaster Tsargrad claimed that Prigozhin’s body had been identified, much of the Western media has been careful not to confirm the death of Vladimir Putin’s confidante-turned-nemesis. The BBC, for instance, notably changed its description of Prigozhin from “killed” to “presumed dead”.
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What’s behind this rising tide of scepticism over Prigozhin’s fate? Below are three factors giving Russia-watchers pause for thought…
The other plane:
The UK press, drawing on claims from Wagner-affiliated Telegram groups, has reported that a second aircraft supposedly belonging to Prigozhin landed safely in Moscow yesterday evening. Flight radar captured the jet travelling over the same Tver region in which the other plane crashed. Russian military bloggers have suggested that the Wagner boss was equally likely to have travelled on the second, slightly larger plane.
The other Prigozhin:
Keir Giles, Senior Consulting Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, has told the US Mirror that a body appearing to belong to Prigozhin might actually be his body double. “Until we know for certain that it’s the right Prigozhin, let’s not be surprised if he pops up shortly in a new video from Africa [where he was filmed earlier this week],” he continued. Moreover, he added, “it is also known that multiple individuals have changed their name to Yevgeny Prigozhin, as part of his efforts to obfuscate his travels”.
The other crash:
This is not the first time Prigozhin has been thought dead, nor even the first time his demise has been attributed to a plane crash. In October 2019, Russian news website Readovka claimed that the Wagner leader had died on board a jet flying to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was set to meet African leaders. A few days later, state media agency RIA Novosti denied the report, saying that Prigozhin was in Russia at the time and “very surprised to be considered dead”. After this near-miss, could Putin’s most dangerous rival have cheated death again?