Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and other top officers of his private Wagner Military Group are presumed dead after a plane crash outside of Moscow.
Eyewitnesses told Russian media they heard two loud explosions before Prigozhin’s private jet fell from the sky and burst into flames.
A video of the crash shows the plane plummeting from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet. All 10 people on board have been reported dead, and Russian authorities have confirmed Prigozhin was on the flight.
An investigation is now underway, but so far no reason for the crash has been reported.
Some images from the wreckage reportedly show puncture marks, which experts believe could suggest a missile strike, rather than a bomb blast.
“When we look at the wreckage, you don’t see any outward expansion that you might see in a bomb. Also, you would think the Wagner people would be protective of the airplane and not allow a bomb onto the airplane,” said Col. Steve Ganyard, USMC (Ret.).
President Joe Biden says he’s not surprised, and hinted that he believes Putin could be behind the crash.
“There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer to that,” Biden told reporters.
Back in June, Prigozhin led a brief mutiny, pulling thousands of his Wagner Group fighters out of Ukraine, and directing them, instead, to march on Moscow.
Prior to the rebellion, the mercenary chief called out Russia’s defense establishment for alleged mismanagement of the war in Ukraine and denying weapons to his soldiers.
He called off the coup after allegedly cutting a deal with Putin.
“Back in 2018, Putin did an interview where he said everything is forgivable except betrayal. Clearly, Prigozhin betrayed Putin and every day that Prigozhin was walking around a free man in Russia was a symbol of humiliation and a weakness in Putin’s regime,” Col Ganyard told ABC News.
During a press briefing Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed initial U.S. assessments do suggest Prigozhin was killed in the crash.
Ryder said they had no information about how the plane was taken down. However, they do not have reason to believe it was a surface-to-air missile.
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