Wagner Groups Prigozhin killed in plane crash, Russian state media reports
Fox News chief national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin shares details on the report from Russian state media that Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a private plane crash along with nine other passengers.
Experts urged caution when analyzing the circumstances of the possible death of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, arguing that the apparent crash could be an assassination or a disinformation campaign by the Kremlin.
“If Prigozhin is indeed dead, an accident would be too much of a coincidence,” a strategic military intelligence analyst, former senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and author of “Putin’s Playbook,” told Fox News Digital. “It would probably be an assassination, probably on Putin’s orders, as payback for going against the Russian military establishment and criticizing the Russian military leaders.”
Koffler’s comments come after it was reported in Russian media Wednesday that a private plane crashed outside of Moscow, killing 10.
The jet was traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it went down, according to the TASS news agency. While it has not been independently verified that Prigozhin was among the 10 deaths, TASS reported that the Russian warlord “was listed among the passengers, according to the Federal Air Transport Agency.”
RUSSIAN WAGNER GROUP WARLORD PRIGOZHIN WAS ON PLANE THAT CRASHED, KILLING 10, OFFICIALS SAY
Russian billionaire and businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin attends Russian-Turkish talks in Konstantin Palace in Strenla on August, 9, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
“An investigation into the crash of the Embraer aircraft has been launched, the department noted,” the report said.
Meanwhile, one of the Wagner Group’s Telegram channels seemingly confirmed Prigozhin’s death, saying it is “a big tragedy for the Fatherland.”
“That our best warriors perished is God’s will. Everyone of us is ready for this. The one who orchestrated this thinks that he has won, but it is not so. If this is done by an external enemy – which is unlikely – it only precipitates and exacerbates his inevitable defeat. If this is a knife in the back . . . the Fatherland will survive this,” the post said.
“Bigger things have happened and will happen . . . but your fate, as the fate of any ‘Judah’ is not enviable and while the history is being written, the tale of this heinous betrayal will be the scarlet letter on your kin,” the post continued. “Whatever the fate of the Wagner Group is, one cannot take away our victories. Yevgenij Viktorovich Prigozhin, the greatest commander in modern history, has given his life in the fight against the enemies of the Fatherland. And memory about our heroes is immortal.”
PRIGOZHIN CRASH WITNESSES SAY THEY HEARD ‘EXPLOSION’ BEFORE JET PLUMMETED FROM THE SKY
Lt. Col Daniel L. Davis, a military expert and senior fellow at Defense Priorities, questioned whether the crash could have been orchestrated by the Kremlin as payback for the Prigozhin-led uprising earlier this year.
“The first question most are asking: Was Prigozhin assassinated by Putin for his role in a June coup attempt?” Davis told Fox News Digital.
The incident comes after Prigozhin initiated what some called a coup or uprising against Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, leading his thousands of fighters on a march that reached within 125 miles of Moscow. The surprise uprising was ended after two days, and Prigozhin agreed to go into exile in Belarus, though the warlord recently resurfaced in Africa and boasted that his Wagner group would make Russia “greater” and Africa “freer.”
Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010. (Photo by ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
WHO IS YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN?
“Justice and happiness for African nations. Giving hell to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other bandits,” Prigozhin said in the video. “Recruiting real warriors and continuing to complete the tasks that have been given, and we had promised to master.”
Putin made a public appearance at a concert in Russia shortly after news of the crash emerged, while his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Russia media that the Russian president “has been informed of all the events around Prigozhin” and that “necessary measures are being taken.”
Davis noted the timing of the crash that possibly killed Prigozhin, arguing that it would be odd for Putin to order an assassination now that the warlord was back to doing work that benefited Russia.
“Prigozhin had met Putin in Moscow just days after” the end of the uprising, Davis said. “Obviously if you wanted to take him out he could have done it on the spot, but instead he sent him to Belarus and down into North Africa to do lots of missions that are actually beneficial to Russia and Putin himself.”
WAGNER TROOPS MOURN PRIGOZHIN FOLLOWING PLANE CRASH
Davis added that it would be a risk for Putin to have Prigozhin killed, arguing that many Russians were supportive of the Wagner leader and that his death would also “have reverberations for the war in Ukraine.”
Russian President Vladimir Putins. ((Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP))
“Prigozhin was hailed as a military hero by a great many Russians, and if it turns out that it was Putin then certainly that’s going to cause a great deal of division within Russia,” Davis said.
Meanwhile, Koffler argued that the crash could be “a false flag operation” designed to get Prigozhin “back under cover, so he can conduct covert ops,” stressing the need to wait for independent confirmation before declaring the Russian warlord dead.
“We are dealing with Russia, the wilderness of mirrors,” Koffler said. “It could be legit – or it could be a double false flag. Even U.S. intel struggles to make conclusive assessments on such things.”
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Michael Lee is a writer at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee