TL/DR: “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer,” U.S. President Joe Biden said about a plane crash that reportedly killed Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.


Wagner Group leader YevgenyTr Prigozhin was on board a plane that crashed north of Moscow, Russia’s aviation agency said, exactly two months after he staged a short-lived mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia’s Interfax news agency said the remains of all 10 passengers on board were recovered, but their identities remain unknown. Flight-tracking data showed the plane taking a “dramatic descent” in the final moments. There is no official announcement on Prigozhin’s fate from the Kremlin, sparking a flood of theories about his death, including a “slim chance” that “Prigozhin faked his own death.”


The incident has shined the spotlight on Putin, with Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko saying that Wagner is “going to take revenge.” War journalist Roman Saponkov said Prigozhin’s death would have “catastrophic consequences” for the Russian army. Earlier today, France said there were “reasonable doubts” about the “circumstances” of the crash. Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone accused Russian air defense, and hailed Prigozhin as a hero who was killed by “traitors to Russia.”


What happens now? A Defense Department spokesperson told Newsweek that they are monitoring the situation, but “have nothing to offer at this time.” Hundreds of people are mourning Prigozhin’s death, with people leaving flowers and lighting candles near Wagner offices in St. Petersburg. An investigation into the crash has been launched. His death appears to be a confirmation of his rise — Putin’s key ally in the Ukraine war, a prominent figure with a strong foothold in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere — and his fall.

Now, questions are being raised about the fate of Wagner fighters. Media reports suggest that soldiers are already leaving Belarus for Africa, where Prigozhin was reportedly seen in a video this week. Some are warning other Putic critics. The crash is “a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections. ‘Beware! Disloyalty equals death,’” Ukraine presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said.(TIME Magazine)