MOSCOW — Russian aviation authorities say Wagner Group mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the passenger list of a plane that crashed northwest of Moscow on Wednesday that left no survivors. Yet officials have stopped short of directly confirming Prigozhin's death or the cause of the crash.
Here's what we do — and don't — know so far:
Flight tracking data showed the business jet making a routine flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg before suddenly losing altitude a little over 30 minutes into its journey. Witness video appears to show the plane hurtling toward a field, with possibly one of its wings severed. Subsequent videos show the plane engulfed in flames. While not independently confirmed by NPR, the videos appear to match the location of the crash and plane.
Rescue crews say they later recovered the remains of all the people on board. The crash scene, located near the village of Kuzenkhiino in Russia's Tver region some 185 miles northwest of Moscow, has been sealed off by police and the victims' remains reportedly removed to a local morgue. Russia's Investigative Committee — a Kremlin loyalist body with powers akin to the FBI — has opened a criminal investigation. Aviation authorities have launched parallel probes into the cause of the crash.
Ten people were aboard the Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy 600 business jet, Russian aviation authorities say — seven passengers and three crew. Authorities confirm Prigozhin's name was listed among the passengers. The flight manifest also included top Wagner lieutenants including Dmitry Uktin, whose nom de guerre, Wagner, became the mercenary group's name. Flight logs show Prigozhin had flown on the plane in recent months.
Authorities have not issued any statements positively identifying the bodies. Neither Prigozhin nor any of the others on the flight manifest have been heard from since the crash.
The crash comes exactly two months after Prigozhin led a failed mutiny against Russia's military leadership over its perceived failures in the war in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin initially took to the airwaves to insist the Wagner rebels would be punished as traitors.
He and Prigozhin later brokered a deal that ended the rebellion in exchange for the rebels' amnesty and exile in neighboring Belarus. The future for Prigozhin and his Wagner forces has been a source of intense speculation ever since. Various unconfirmed reports had Prigozhin spotted in Belarus, Africa and within Russia itself.
Mourners have been leaving flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Wagner headquarters in St. Petersburg and in other Russian cities where Wagner recruitment was active.
Conspiracy theories have raged online about the cause and timing of the crash. Wagner-related social media channels say an attack was carried out by "enemies of Russia." Who exactly they have in mind isn't clear. Some have blamed President Putin or the Russian military; others, Ukraine and the West.
In the hours following the crash, Putin was at a ceremony to honor troops who fought in Ukraine and made no reference to the incident. More than 24 hours later, the Kremlin leader expressed condolences Thursday to the families of those killed in the crash. He also noted Wagner members were reportedly on board and spoke warmly of his relationship with Prigozhin in the past tense.
The Kremlin leader did not specifically say Prigozhin was aboard the plane, but vowed a state investigation would be carried out in full.
President Biden expressed the view of many allies of Ukraine that the crash was not an accident. "I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised," he said. "There's not much that happened in Russia that Putin's not behind, but I don't know enough to answer."
"It is no accident that the world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former confidant of Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he attempted a mutiny," said Annalena Baerbock, Germany's foreign minister.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a similar reaction. "Everybody understands who was involved," he said.