US intelligence reports suggest that the plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner paramilitary group, was not downed by a surface-to-air missile, contrary to initial theories. US officials, however, still believe that the plane was brought down on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin praised Prigozhin’s contribution to the fight against Nazism in Ukraine, but did not provide any details on the crash. The US is still assessing the cause of the crash, considering the possibility of an explosion on board but cautioning that no firm conclusions have been reached.
Prigozhin and his group are accused of committing various war crimes in Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East. While some view him as a talented businessman and a hero, others consider him a nuisance and a liability. Prigozhin’s death in the plane crash has caused tension within the hardline group, with some suspecting that it was a planned assassination to create domestic political consequences and embarrass Putin. The move to decapitate Wagner suggests Putin’s desire to strengthen the position of Russia’s armed forces and reduce the influence of the mercenary group. Tighter control over Wagner could also allow Putin to bring its non-military activities closer to the state budget, consolidating his power.
Prigozhin’s death has significant implications for Russia’s governing and security apparatus, as his rivals could have feasibly carried out the assassination without direct orders from Putin. The assassination is expected to have disastrous consequences, as those who gave the order are believed to be out of touch with the mood and morale of the army. The exact cause of the crash is still under investigation, and the aviation agency is searching for the plane’s black box. The criminal probe launched into the incident suggests that more information will be revealed in due course.