‘I’m a Russia expert — this is why Prigozhin may have staged his death’

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin slams Putin

There is a “possibility” that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s crash was staged in order for him to continue in his role as mercenary group leader away from the limelight, Express.co.uk has been told.

It comes after the Wagner Group chief is believed to have been a passenger on a plane that crashed while flying over Tver, a town around 100 miles north of Moscow.

Social media linked with Wagner has already accused Russian President Vladimir Putin for authorising Prigozhin’s death.

The former hotdog salesman led a mutiny in June that was cut short of reaching Moscow.

Now, Natia Seskuria, a Russia hawk, has explained why the crash and Prigozhin’s death could well be a way for the mercenary chief to escape.

READ MORE Prigozhin’s ‘body double’ may have been on downed aircraft near Moscow

“There is some possibility that this was done so Prigozhin can operate under the radar,” she said. “Some people are saying it might have been staged by Prigozhin himself in order to disappear.”

Ms Seskuria, the founder and director of the Georgia-based Regional Institute for Security Studies (RISS), continued: “The potential reason why his death has been staged might be because he at some point realised he had signed a death sentence for himself in carrying out the unsuccessful mutiny.

“Because of this, he had become stuck, and there was no turning back, no way for him to regain Putin’s confidence and trust, and to do business as usual.

“It could also be that Prigozhin decided he wanted to do something to survive and overcome this because I think even though he was so close to Putin and a part of his inner circle, it would’ve been pretty clear to him that his chances of survival after the mutiny were not significant.

“If we do have some sort of staged scenario, I think the only reason he could’ve done this is to get out of the situation and save himself to stay alive.”

Doubts have already been raised as to whether Prigozhin was on the plane that crashed at Tver.

He was listed as a passenger on his Embraer Legacy 600 jet which has the Russian registration number RA-02795, the same plane that is said to have taken him to Belarus after the failed mutiny. It was heading towards St Petersburg at the time of the incident.

However, another business jet associated with Prigozhin, an Embraer Legacy 650 with the registration number RA-02748, was also airborne at the time of the crash and has since landed in Moscow.

It has raised questions among Russia watchers — especially given the fact that Prigozhin has a long history of using disguises to hide his real identity.

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When his St Petersburg villa was raided after the mutiny, Russian authorities found many different wigs and costumes. Photographs were also released of the Wagner chief dressed in various costumes.

Just days ago, Prigozhin released a video where he claimed to be in Africa, in the Sahel region, proclaiming that Wagner was here to stay and that his mercenary group would bring stability to Russia and “make Russia even greater in every continent”.

Doubt was cast on the video, with many pointing out that if true, Prigozhin would be standing in temperatures close to 50C clad in full military fatigues and an overcoat without appearing to break a sweat.

Ten other people are said to have been on the plane with Prigozhin, including Dmitry Utkin, a senior Wagner commander who founded the group in 2014.

One report said the body of Prigozhin has already been found and identified, although this hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Interfax, Russia’s state news agency, has said all 10 bodies onboard have been recovered.

The Wagner Group has tens of thousands of soldiers in Russia, Belarus, and Africa. It is unclear whether any remain in Ukraine.

What the future holds for the group is murky, but some say Putin had been looking to create an alternative mercenary group.

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