Yevgeny Prigozhin might’ve died in a plane crash.
Whether the caterer-turned warlord-turned usurper was or wasn’t on the Wagner-linked Embraer Legacy 600 which crashed north of Moscow killing all 10 people aboard on Wednesday is in some sense irrelevant. Prigozhin was a dead man walking as of June 24, when he and his motley crew of mercenaries came within 100 miles of Moscow (and within a few minutes of being incinerated by warplanes) in a botched attempt to overthrow Russia’s military command.
Although Prigozhin met with Vladimir Putin following the aborted coup, and appeared to be off the proverbial hook, his fate was never in doubt. Whatever Prigozhin’s goals were that fateful weekend in June (perhaps it’s better to just say whatever happened that weekend, because there’s still no definitive account), the episode ended up an embarrassment for Putin. Putin’s not a man who enjoys being embarrassed, and Prigozhin remained the face of that embarrassment.
So, if it wasn’t a plane crash it would’ve been something else. Yevgeny might’ve slipped on a banana peel next to an open window 10 floors up. Or maybe he ate some bad oysters. Or maybe a lion ate him on a business trip to Africa. Anyway you slice it, Yevgeny’s days were numbered.
In the hours after Tass listed Prigozhin as a passenger on a downed business jet he was known to use, no one would confirm if he was among the dead. The plane took off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport bound for St. Petersburg. It crashed less than 30 minutes later somewhere near Kuzhenkino. “Everyone on board died,” a blunt statement attributed to Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency read.
“If confirmed, no one should be surprised,” a spokeswoman for Joe Biden’s National Security Council mused, of Prigozhin’s prospective demise. “The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now — it would seem — to this.” “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” Biden said, in off-the-cuff remarks from Lake Tahoe.
Putin was too busy to comment. At least initially. He was in Kursk to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory over the Nazis. He spoke in front of a live orchestra.
Earlier, Russian media confirmed that Sergei Surovikin, known to the world as “General Armageddon,” was dismissed as chief of Russia’s aerospace forces, a position he held for nearly five years. Western intelligence suggested Surovikin had advance knowledge of Prigozhin’s uprising. He disappeared from public view shortly after the incident.
On Tuesday, Russia’s RBC said Surovikin was on “a short vacation.” Unless he wants to go on a long vacation, he should probably avoid tall buildings. And banana peels. And planes.