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Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was on plane that crashed with no survivors, Russian aviation authority says – live

Embraer plane crash: What we know so far

Here is what we know so far about the plane crash that Russian aviation authorities say killed Prigozhin and nine others:

  • The plane was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg and was carrying seven passengers and three crew members.

  • The Russian Aviation Authority has confirmed that Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner chief commander Dmitry Utkin were on board the crashed Embraer plane.

  • All 10 people onboard the plane died, according to Russia’s ministry for emergency situation, Reuters reports.

  • The other five passengers have been identified as: Sergey Propustin, Evgeniy Makaryan, Aleksandr Totmin, Valeriy Chekalov, Dmitriy Utkin, Nikolay Matuseev and Prigozhin.

  • The crew have been identified as: Commander Aleksei Levshin, co-pilot Rustam Karimov and flight attendant Kristina Raspopova.

  • The plane went down almost 300km (186 miles) north of Moscow, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

  • Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened up an investigation into the crash on charges of air safety rule violation.

  • The crash comes two months after Prigozhin’s failed mutiny against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authority.

  • US president Joe Biden has been informed of the crash and said that he was “not surprised” at the news of Prigozhin’s death.

Key events

Wagner building lit up like a cross

Reuters reports that a building housing Wagner’s offices in St Petersburg lit up its windows after dark in such a way as to display a giant cross in a mark of respect and mourning.

Flowers were left and candles lit near the offices early on Thursday:

Flowers and patches of the logo of the private mercenary group Wagner are seen at the memorial in front of the 'PMC Wagner Centre' in St Petersburg, Russia, on 24 August 2023.
Flowers and patches of the logo of the private mercenary group Wagner are seen at the memorial in front of the ‘PMC Wagner Centre’ in St Petersburg, Russia, on 24 August 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

More on the plane’s last moments, via Reuters:

Online flight tracker Flightradar24 last recorded the position of the aircraft at 3:11 p.m. GMT, before the crash. Jamming or interference in the area probably slowed the collection of further location data.

Other data continued for nine minutes. Flightradar24 said the jet went thorough a series of ascents and descents of a few thousand feet each over 30 seconds before its final, disastrous plunge. Flightradar24 received its final data on the jet at 3.20pm.

Plane appeared fine on radar until last 30 seconds – Reuters

Helen Sullivan back with you now. Reuters reports that the jet believed to be carrying Prigozhin to his death on Wednesday showed no sign of problem until a precipitous drop in its final 30 seconds, according to flight-tracking data.

The plane was traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region, Russia’s emergency situations ministry said.

At 3.19pm GMT, the aircraft made a “sudden downward vertical,” said Ian Petchenik of Flightradar24. Within about 30 seconds, the aircraft had plummeted more than 8,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet.
”Whatever happened, happened quickly,” Petchenik said.

“They may have been wrestling (with the aircraft) after whatever happened,” Petchenik said. But prior to its dramatic drop, there was “no indication that there was anything wrong with this aircraft.”

Video showed the plane descending rapidly with its nose pointing almost straight downward and a plume of smoke or vapour behind it.

More reaction, this time from Bill Browder, the American-born financier who famously took on Putin after corrupt Russian officials effectively hijacked his hedge fund to perpetrate a massive tax fraud.

Putin never forgives and never forgets. He looked like a humiliated weakling with Prighozin running around without a care in the world. This will cement his authority and is standard Putin operating procedure

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) August 23, 2023

More pictures have also come through from the scene of the crash:

Police stand guard at a checkpoint on a road near the accident scene after the crash of a private jet linked to Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Photograph: Reuters
Rescue personnel at the crash site of a private plane en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg in Tver Region near Moscow, Russia.
Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock
A Russian serviceman guards a road near the crash site, near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia.
Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The wires have sent a couple of pictures through from outside the former PMC Wagner Centre in St Petersburg, where people have been placing flowers and lighting candles.

A man lights a candle at an informal memorial next to the former 'PMC Wagner Centre' in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Photograph: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP
A man places flowers at an informal memorial next to the former 'PMC Wagner Centre' in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Photograph: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

And some from British lawmaker Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s foreign affairs committee:

The speed at which the Russian Govt has confirmed Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know.

Reports Russian Air Defence shot down the plane suggests Putin is sending a very loud message.

— Alicia Kearns MP (@aliciakearns) August 23, 2023

For Putin there is one unforgivable sin: the betrayal of Putin and Russia.

He hunts down those he perceives to be traitors, incl on British shores, such as Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.

Now Yevgeny Prigozhin has been added to that list, ending Putin’s humiliation.

— Alicia Kearns MP (@aliciakearns) August 23, 2023

Some reaction from Poland, where foreign minister Zbigniew Rau told state news channel TVP Info:

We would have great trouble naming anyone who would intuitively think this was a coincidence. It so happens that political opponents whom Vladimir Putin considers a threat to his power do not die naturally.”

As many have pointed out, Prigozhin would not be the first enemy of Vladimir Putin to meet an untimely death. Reuters has put together this rundown of mysterious deaths and apparent attacks on critics of the Russian president:

ALEXEI NAVALNY: Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was flown to Germany in August 2020 for medical treatment after being poisoned in Siberia with what western experts concluded was the military nerve agent novichok. Russia has denied any involvement. Navalny earned admiration around the world for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021. He was immediately arrested on arrival.

SERGEI SKRIPAL: A former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in the English cathedral city of Salisbury in March 2018.
They were taken to hospital in critical condition, and British officials said they had been poisoned with novichok, a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Both survived.

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA: A Russian opposition activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza said he believes attempts were made to poison him in 2015 and 2017. A German laboratory later found elevated levels of mercury, copper, manganese and zinc in him, according to medical reports seen by Reuters. Moscow denied involvement.

Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza attends a court hearing in Moscow in July.
Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza attends a court hearing in Moscow in July. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent and outspoken critic of Putin, died in 2006 aged 43 after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210, a rare and potent radioactive isotope, at London’s Millennium Hotel, British officials have said. Putin probably approved the killing, a British inquiry concluded in 2016. The Kremlin has denied involvement.

ALEXANDER PEREPILICHNY: The 44-year-old Russian was found dead near his luxury home on an exclusive gated estate outside London after he had been out jogging in November 2012. Alexander Perepilichny sought refuge in Britain in 2009 after helping a Swiss investigation into a Russian money-laundering scheme. His sudden death raised suggestions he might have been murdered. Russia denied involvement.

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: Viktor Yushchenko, then a Ukrainian opposition leader, was poisoned during the campaign for the 2004 presidential election in which he ran on a pro-western ticket against the pro-Moscow prime minister Viktor Yanukovich.
He said he was poisoned while having dinner outside Kyiv with officials from the Ukrainian security services. Russia denied any involvement. His body was found to contain 1,000 times more dioxin than is normally present. His face and body were disfigured by the poisoning, and he had dozens of operations in the aftermath.

ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA: A journalist who reported on human rights abuses, she was shot dead outside her flat in Moscow on 7 October 2006, after returning home from the supermarket.

An interesting observation on how the plane crash is being reported in Russia:

Russia’s main TV channel devoted 40 seconds to Prigozhin’s death. It was the 14th out of 17 items in a 53-minutes news programme.

— Marc Bennetts (@marcbennetts1) August 23, 2023

This is Helen Livingstone, standing in for Helen Sullivan.

Putin has not commented on the crash

Russia’s federal transport agency, Rosaviatsia, has set up a special commission to investigate the crash of the aircraft belonging to MNT-Aero, AFP reports.

As we reported earlier, Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it opened an investigation into the crash.

The bodies of eight people have been found so far at the site of the crash, RIA Novosti said citing the emergency services.

Putin was meanwhile giving a speech for the 80th anniversary of the Kursk battle in the second world war.

He did not mention the crash and hailed “all our soldiers who are fighting bravely and resolutely” in the special military operation in Ukraine.

Keir Giles, a Russia analyst at the London-based Chatham House, has told the Washington Post: “Until we know for certain it’s the right Prigozhin, let’s not be surprised if he pops up shortly in a new video from Africa.”

Russia’s civil aviation authority has said that Prigozhin was on board the plane that crashed, and that there were no survivors. But that is as much confirmation as we have.

Pjotr Sauer

Pjotr Sauer

As speculations swirl on the role of Putin in the crash, the warlord’s death will surely raise tensions within the Russian army. While his uprising was largely condemned by the armed forces, he remained a popular figure among some elements of the troops who sympathised with his critiques of the Russian military establishment and the faltering war.

“If he is really dead, [I will] grab my stuff, we don’t need this fucking war,” wrote Egor Guzenko, a Russian soldier who runs a blog under the callsign “Thirteenth” shortly after the news of Prigozhin’s death emerged.

“We should be killing our enemies, not our own,” wrote Sergei Markov, a popular blogger and former adviser to the Kremlin. “All our enemies are celebrating … The death of Priogzhin is Ukraine’s biggest achievement this year.”

What is the Embraer jet’s safety record?

Here is more on the jet that crashed, via Reuters:

The Embraer executive jet model that crashed in Russia, apparently with Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin onboard, has only ever recorded one accident in over 20 years of service, and that was due to mistakes by the crew rather than mechanical failure, according to website International Aviation HQ.

Russia’s TASS news agency said the plane was a Brazilian Embraer jet.

Embraer on Wednesday declined to comment, saying only that “Embraer has complied with international sanctions imposed on Russia.” Sanctions block western planemakers from providing parts or support for planes operated in Russia.

Flightradar24 online tracker showed that the Embraer Legacy 600 (plane number RA-02795) said to be carrying Prigozhin had dropped off the radar at 6.11 pm local time (15.11 GMT). An unverified video on social media showed a plane resembling a private jet falling out of the sky toward the earth.

The Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft in St Petersburg.
The Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft in St Petersburg. Photograph: Luba Ostrovskaya/Reuters

The Legacy 600 entered service in 2002, according to International Aviation HQ, with almost 300 produced until production ceased in 2020.

There is only one recorded accident involving a Legacy 600, which occurred in 2006 when it crashed mid-air into a Gol 737-800 on its way from the Embraer factory in Brazil to the United States, International Aviation HQ said. Despite damages to the aircraft, the pilot landed the plane and there were no deaths or injuries.

A subsequent inquiry attributed blame to the crew rather than any mechanical failure, the website said.

What next for the Wagner group?

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

In the aftermath of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “march on Moscow” two months ago, CIA chief William Burns predicted that Russian president Vladimir Putin would take his time exacting his revenge.

“What we are seeing is a very complicated dance,” Burns suggested at the Aspen Security Forum in July. “Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback.”

And while details of exactly what occurred remain murky in the immediate aftermath of the mercenary boss’s reported death in a plane crash, what is clear is that Wagner – the mercenary organisation that Prigozhin built – has essentially been first quartered and then dramatically decapitated.

It was not only Prigozhin who perished in the incident. With him on the flight was Dmitry Utkin, one of his closest allies another key figure in Wagner. A former GRU officer and a mercenary who had been active in Syria guarding oilfields, he had been implicated in organising the Wagner convoy that tried to drive to Moscow.

Reports from Russian social media channels associated with Wagner suggest other members of Wagner’s leadership may also have been on the flight.

What is clear is that Wagner, as it was once constituted, is no more:

Here is the video of US President Joe Biden being asked about his reaction to the news of Prigozhin’s death:

Joe Biden ‘not surprised’ by reports on plane crash involving Prigozhin – video

Pjotr Sauer

Pjotr Sauer

Wagner leader’s longstanding feud with the military and the armed uprising he led in June would give the Russian state ample motive for revenge.

Prigozhin’s brazen conduct left many in the elite wondering whether Putin still held control over the country, according to western officials.

“For a lot of Russians watching this, used to this image of Putin as the arbiter of order, the question was, ‘Does the emperor have no clothes?’ Or at least, ‘Why is it taking so long for him to get dressed?’” CIA director William Burns said earlier this month.

Prigozhin was last seen earlier this week when he released a video in which he claimed to be in Africa, where his mercenaries have relocated since the abortive uprising. But it was unclear when it was taken and whether he had returned to Russia since it was shot.

Pjotr Sauer

Pjotr Sauer

Ever since the abortive coup, speculation had been that Yevgeny Prigozhin could be living on borrowed time.

When the head of the notorious Wagner group launched his historic uprising, inflicting the biggest crisis of Vladimir Putin’s 23-year reign, many were left wondering how the Russian leader would respond.

During the mutiny, Prigozhin’s band of mercenaries shot down at least two helicopters and killed about 15 Russian service personnel, many of them airmen. More significantly for Putin, Prigozhin’s rebellion, which reached the outskirts of Moscow, exposed the fragility of a regime many deemed to be stable:

Hello, this is Helen Sullivan taking over our live coverage of the plane crash that Russia’s aviation authority says has killed Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.


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