Russian authorities have confirmed using genetic testing that Wagner warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin’s body was among those killed in a plane crash outside of Moscow on Wednesday.
Confirming the veracity of the flight manifest for the Embraer Legacy 600 business jet that crashed in the Tver region, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Sunday morning that all ten people listed, including Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, were the same as those found in the wreckage.
“As part of the investigation of the plane crash in the Tver region, molecular genetic examinations have been completed. According to their results, the identities of all ten victims have been established, they correspond to the list stated in the flight sheet,” the Russian officials said according to state media RIA Novosti.
The Investigative Committee also confirmed that Dmitry Utkin, a co-founder of the paramilitary group, and a top lieutenant of Wagner, Valery Chekalov, also died in the crash.
The authorities said that a criminal case on the “violation of traffic safety rules and operation of air transport” has been launched.
The death of Prigozhin — who was a leading force in Russia’s war effort against Ukraine before turning his ire against the Kremlin and launching a believed coup against Vladimir Putin’s government in June — has sparked widespread speculation over potential foul play in the downing of the jet.
Immediately following the crash, a Telegram channel associated with PMC Wagner, ‘The Grey Zone’, accused the Russian Air Force of shooting down Prigozhin’s jet.
“The assassination of Prigozhin would have catastrophic consequences. The people who gave the order do not understand the mood in the army and the morale at all,” the group said in a veiled threat to the leadership in Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in the crash, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin. Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle.
“All of this is an absolute lie, and here, when covering this issue, it is necessary to base yourself on facts. There are not many facts yet. They need to be established in the course of investigative actions.”
Kyiv has also denied involvement, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that his government did not assassinate the Wagner chief, adding that “everyone realizes” who was behind the crash, in a reference to Russia. For his part, President Vladimir Putin said that Prigozhin was “a man of complicated destiny”.
It is still not clear why Prigozhin and other top brass of the Wagner group were flying over Russia, with the group being effectively exiled to Belarus after the failed coup attempt. Shortly before his death, Prigozhin published a video purporting to have been filmed in Africa, saying that his band of mercenaries were prepared to enter into the fray in Niger in order to make “Africa more free“.