Yevgeny Prigozhin Dies Third Time

Yevgeny Prigozhin is officially dead.

Figuratively, he died on the weekend of June 24, when he tried to overthrow Russia’s military command. He died literally exactly two months later when a plane he was on, along with the Wagner Group’s entire top leadership, fell out of the sky north of Moscow. On Sunday, he died a third time, this time officially.

Although Russian officials confirmed that all passengers aboard the plane were killed (something which was obvious from crash site footage), and although he was listed as a passenger, the Kremlin never confirmed that Prigozhin was, in fact, on the plane. Putin did refer to his erstwhile “chef” in the past tense, though, which is all the confirmation you really needed.

If you harbored any lingering doubts, a spokeswoman for Russia’s investigative committee said Sunday that,

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 10 dead were established, and they correspond to the list stated in the flight sheet.

So that’s it. Prigozhin is no more.

Western intelligence still isn’t sure what caused the plane to crash, but the surface-to-air missile theory, initially floated by Reuters citing a pair of unnamed US officials, has seemingly been ruled out. An explosion aboard the plane is the presumed cause.

“Western governments continue to explore the possibility that an air-to-air missile could have been used, even if an explosion on board remained the more likely scenario,” the New York Times said, noting that “a bomb or other device planted on the aircraft” is the leading theory, even as others, including “adulterated fuel,” are being considered.

The debris field spanned two miles, which one expert told the Times would be “unusual if the plane hadn’t taken any structural damage while airborne.” The same person described the plane’s near vertical descent as evidence that something “stop[ped] its forward momentum.”

The Kremlin is conducting an “investigation” of the incident, but that’s obviously a farce. Putin wanted to send a message, and it was presumably received — by oligarchs, by the military and by the Russian populace. Not that anyone in Russia needed a reminder, but just in case: Challenging Putin’s authority in a direct way is still a death sentence.

One issue going forward is Prigozhin’s popularity. He had a large social media following and was a folk hero for many, even as he was a monster to the outside world. He was correct to assess that Russia’s military leadership is incompetent, and his assessment was backed up by the only member of that leadership who wasn’t incompetent: Sergei Surovikin. Not coincidentally, Surovikin was stripped of his command just hours before Prigozhin’s plane crashed.

“Russians mourning… Prigozhin have set up makeshift memorials in nearly two dozen cities across Russia and occupied Ukraine in recent days,” WaPo wrote over the weekend, adding that although the memorials don’t constitute anything like “a national outpouring of shock and grief,” they nevertheless demonstrate Prigozhin’s “support across Russia in hard line pro-war circles, and highlight the Kremlin’s delicate task of managing potential anger among his supporters.”

It’s not obvious that Prigozhin’s assassination by Putin will be welcome news even for Russians who aren’t harder liners and who privately don’t support the war. This is just another testament to the fact that Russia remains a ruthless dictatorship.

Putin’s long-time spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said all rumors of Kremlin involvement in Prigozhin’s demise are “lies.”


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2 thoughts on “Yevgeny Prigozhin Dies Third Time

  1. I certainly wouldn’t mind a further demoralizing effect on Russian troops and middle level commanders who are being thrown into the slaughterhouse…

  2. I guess the KISS version of the story is that some device onboard the plane exploded due to a malfunction.

    A slightly less likely in most cases (though maybe equally likely in this one) is that someone placed a device onto the plane that exploded while it was in flight.

    But my favorite conjecture (though the least likely) is that he used this to somehow fake his own death in a way that allows him to disappear (for a while anyway).

    To be clear I don’t like him any more than I like Putin. But somehow the idea of somebody pulling one over on old Pootie-Poot (as W used to call him) just makes me smile a bit. Even in the midst of all this morbid stuff.

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