Yevgeny Prigozhin, the commander of the Wagner mercenary forces in Ukraine, was among the 10 individuals died in a plane accident last week in Russia, according to genetic and forensic testing, Russian investigators confirmed on Sunday.
The testing, according to Russia’s aviation bureau, verified that a list of the passengers’ identities that had been previously released was authentic, and that Prigozhin, his two closest lieutenants, Dmitry Utkin and Wagner logistics chief Valery Chekalov, were among the ten victims.
There had been some speculation, particularly on pro-Wagner Telegram channels, as to whether Prigozhin had been a passenger on the fateful flight. Prigozhin was known to take different security steps in anticipation of a potential assassination attempt.
On Wednesday in the Tyer region northwest of Moscow, the private plane carrying them from Moscow to St. Petersburg dropped from the sky and crashed into a field. Video footage from the scene showed raging flames inside the wreckage.
Authorities have not yet disclosed the reason of the collision. According to Russia, it was “an absolute lie” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the execution of Prigozhin in retaliation for Prigozhin’s leadership of the Wagner forces’ brief exodus from Ukraine and march toward Moscow on June 23–24.
Without providing any supporting data, Western politicians and commentators have asserted that Putin, who referred to the mutiny as a “stab in the back,” had planned to assassinate Prigozhin, 62, who oversaw the Wagner troops that fought with Russian forces in Ukraine.
However, Prigozhin had become openly critical of what he believed to be a lack of backing from Russian military officials and adequate ammunition supplies for Wagner fighters before the mutiny. Russian government funds were used to support Wagner.
The mutiny, in which Prigozhin’s forces gained control of Rostov, a city in southern Russia near the Ukrainian border, and advanced to within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of Moscow before calling it quits, occurred two months to the day before the accident.
After the revolt, Prigozhin traveled to his own headquarters in St. Petersburg, spoke with Putin at the Kremlin, and spent some time in Belarus.
The Kremlin said that following the mutiny, the Wagner fighters had three choices: they could join Prigozhin there, retire, or enlist in the Russian regular army and go back to Ukraine. Wagner’s mercenaries decided to relocate to Belarus, where a camp was built for them southeast of Minsk, the country’s capital.
Prigozhin received a conflicted homage from Putin on Thursday, who called him a “talented businessman” but nevertheless “made serious mistakes in life.”
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, responded that it was too early to determine whether Putin will attend Prigozhin’s funeral and mentioned the president’s “busy schedule.”
The Associated Press and Reuters both contributed some information to this report.