The head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, six of his colleagues and three flight crew died when their corporate plane came down near the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia shortly after 18:10 (local time) on Wednesday, Aug. 23.
This ignited a whirlwind of comment, theory and counter-theory among mainstream and social media in Russia, Ukraine and internationally.
Did an anti-aircraft missile destroy the plane?
Mobile phone video and images taken at the time the aircraft fell, eye witness testimony and what appeared to be missile fragment impacts to the fuselage suggested the plane had been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile.
Most western media supported this theory based, not only on the video evidence, but also its assessment of Putin’s behavior: it was exactly two months since the failed mutiny and the dictator is a sucker for anniversaries; the rebels had shot down several aircraft on the march to Moscow, killing Prigozhin in this way was “poetic justice;” the former head of the CIA said Putin would get his revenge when “the time was right.”
It was reported that Kremlin “security” had received video from Sheremetyevo airport that confirmed Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, Wagner’s leaders, had boarded the plane, thereby ensuring the right target was hit.
Another indicator quoted by social media was that security forces in Rostov-on-Don, whose inhabitants had shown support for the Wagner rebels in June were put on alert at almost the same time as the plane came down.
Was it a bomb?
Russian media published unconfirmed reports that, immediately before the plane took off, a box of expensive wine was loaded onto Prigozhin’s plane in Moscow.
The same Russian media reported that a spokesperson for Rosaviatsia, Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency, had said a bomb was the cause.
Relatives of Kristina Raspopova, Prigozhin’s flight attendant told them that just before the flight the plane had been taken away for “short-term and incomprehensible repairs.”
Did Putin know beforehand?
President Putin was attending an event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in the Battle of Kursk during the second world war. Some social media has suggested this may have been to provide the Kremlin leader with “plausible deniability.”
It was reported that as soon as the news of the plane crash was received, he left and moved to his villa at Valdai near Moscow.
What was Wagner’s response?
The immediate response was to adjust the office lights in its St. Petersburg headquarters in the form of a cross.
It was then reported that Wagner had put into place an [unspecified] action plan in case of the sudden/unexplained death of Prigozhin.
It was then reported that a council of Wagner PMC commanders was being held to decide on what action to take if culpability for the crash is determined.
“Go outside to honor the memory of the hero of Russia … [do] not shamefully hide at home and pretend that Prigozhin never existed.”
Meanwhile Wagner “rank and file” were announcing their own plans:
· “They are preparing to leave Belarus (Belarus social media).”
· There will be a “second march for justice.”
· We [Wagner] must take action: t.me/c/1352726486/60690.
Someone cut off the internet to the Wagner camps in Belarus:
All heavy equipment was taken from Wagner. All they can do is create traffic jams:
Kyiv Post has excluded the triumphalist memes celebrating Prigozhin’s passing or categorizing fireworks in Kyiv (for Flag Day) and Kursk (80th anniversary) as celebrations of Prigozhin’s passing, or those exhorting the heads of other PMS, such as Ramzan Kadyrov, to take out life insurance – of which there were many.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the Ukraine Directorate of military intelligence (HUR) said on Telegram: “Despite all the emotions after such a series of events … one must understand that life goes on and move on.
“The Wagner PMC structure alone will not entail very rapid destruction, but this can trigger other processes. For the Putin regime, these are yet other things that undermine the ‘foundations’ of this regime’s existence.”
Was it definitely Prigozhin?
Russian media reported that the bodies of Prigozhin and Utkin had been positively identified on Thursday Aug. 24.
It was nothing to do with Ukraine
President Zelensky made a statement on Thursday afternoon in response to Russian
“hawks” saying it must be Ukraine and hinting who he thought was responsible.
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