Washington – The precise circumstances of the alleged death of the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, remain to be determined, but there is a strong suspicion among experts around the world that he was the victim of revenge by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other minority voices point to the fact that he could have engineered his disappearance.
Russian social networks, close to the opposition or linked to the group, coincide with the first analyzes of Western think tanks, for whom the life of the uncontrollable paramilitary has been hanging by a thread since his mutiny in June. Along with him, his right-hand man, Dmitri Utkin, and eight other people died.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a series of theories were being analyzed about the causes in which the plane fell, including the possibility that it was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The spokesman for the US Defense Ministry, Pat Ryder, said that nothing indicates for the moment that the episode was caused by the impact of a surface-to-air missile, although that was the hypothesis that government officials leaked “off the record.”
In fact, two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said that is the most likely cause.
The Wall Street Journal published a different theory yesterday: that a bomb on board the plane or some other sabotage could have caused the event. It is not uncommon for there to be opposing, and even contradictory, intelligence views in the US government in the hours and days after major international events. A third US official told Reuters there were several theories and no definitive conclusion had been reached.
The accident came two months after Prigozhin and his Wagner group mercenaries staged a mutiny in which they seized control of a southern city and advanced on Moscow, shooting down several Russian air force planes and killing their pilots.
US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he was not surprised by reports that Prigozhin had died, adding that not much happens in Russia where Putin is not behind it.
Coinciding with US suspicions, versions close to the Wagner group point to the firing of S-300 surface-to-air missiles as the main cause, a claim that could not be proven.
The hypothesis was established just minutes after the crash of the plane was known. The Grey_Zone account evoked “white traces in the sky, characteristic of anti-aircraft defense”, in a home video presented as evidence of the incident, but which could not be officially verified.
Other images, which could be corroborated, showed the spiral fall of a device described as the Embraer 135 in which Prigozhin was.
Even the director of the ET media group, Margarita Sansimoniano, seemed to lean towards the murder track, ruling out the hypothesis that the best-known mercenary on the planet would have orchestrated his false disappearance.
“Among the tracks that are discussed, is the staging. Personally, I lean towards the more obvious clue,” she wrote.
Ten passengers were on the plane that crashed in the Tver region north of Moscow, according to an official list. “All the people on board died,” said the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
Dossier, the website belonging to the exiled opponent and businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, published brief biographies of the dead.
Dmitri Utkin, Prigozhin’s essential right-hand man at Wagner and known for his neo-Nazi sympathies, is among them. “He was responsible for command and combat training,” says Dossier. Another passenger, Valéri Shekalov, was one of the directors of Concord, the company founded by Prigozhin, and had worked with him since the 2000s.
He oversaw all of his civilian projects abroad, “from geological prospecting, to oil production and agriculture,” as well as Wagner’s logistics, Dossier said.
Observers have several arguments to accuse Putin: his anger after the Wagner mutiny, his record eliminating opponents or the hardening of the regime since the start of the invasion in Ukraine.
“If Russia were a normal state, the rebellion would have led to a trial. Despite what we may think of Prigozhin, it is unreasonable to kill someone without a trial, especially when he is not hiding, ”Khodorkovsky posted on the X social network.
“In Putin’s world, the gangster world, on the other hand, is the only way to do things. After all, who knows what he would have told the court?” he noted.
Samuel Ramani, an expert from the British RUSI institute, recalls that “Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya criticized the war in Chechnya in the early 2000s and were assassinated in 2006.”
“Putin is used to taking revenge late. Prigozhin’s death came much earlier than usual, ”he added.
Other issues remain unanswered. “Why would Putin have chosen to kill Prigozhin in such a spectacular way? Why did he authorize Prigozhin to attend the St. Petersburg summit?” between Russia and Africa in July, asks former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, on his X account.
And finally: Why are Wagner’s mercenaries “now allowed to talk about revenge on social networks?”