Yevgeny Prigozhin’s unwillingness to “accept his punishment” after he attempted a coup against the Russian military leadership may have led to his demise.
Dr Jenny Mathers, senior lecturer in international politics at Aberystwyth University, noted it is still not clear whether the leader of the Wagner Group was on the private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening in the Tver region, north of Moscow.
It also hasn’t been confirmed whether the Kremlin was involved in the allegedly deadly event.
But she believes an aircraft incident causing the death of prominent members of the mercenary troops that openly challenged the Kremlin two months ago would “fit a longstanding pattern”- seeing individuals who have become enemies of Putin dying “under mysterious circumstances”.
The clock, she also said, started ticking for Mr Prigozhin when, while Wagner’s men were marching towards the Russian capital on June 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the mutineers “traitors”.
She told Express.co.uk: “When Putin described Prigozhin as a traitor during the June 24 mutiny and attempted march on Moscow, it was widely assumed that Prigozhin’s life would be at risk and that it would be a matter of when, not if, an attempt would be made.”
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Speaking about the timing of the plane crash, Dr Mathers said it was “intriguing”.
She said: “Two months to the day since the mutiny. In some respects, this is quite a short time frame for action against him, considering that some who have been labelled as traitors by Putin were assassinated several years after they committed their original offence.
“If we think about Sergei Skripal or Alexander Litvinenko, both former spies who were poisoned years after they had left Russia and settled in the UK.”
But the expert also noted the past eight weeks have been “long and eventful” when it comes to Mr Prigozhin, who saw his home in St Petersburg raided, went into an unconvincing exile in Belarus and reportedly met Putin at the Kremlin.
The mutiny was quashed thanks to the intervention of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who in June was widely reported to have brokered a deal between Putin and Mr Prigozhin.
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As a result, the Kremlin had agreed not to pursue criminal charges against Wagner soldiers while the troops’ founder would in turn go into exile in Belarus.
But Mr Prigozhin was spotted in Russia multiple times in the weeks that followed the uprising. Most notably, while Putin was hosting a critical summit between Russia and African nations, Mr Prigozhin waltzed into St Petersburg to also meet with members of the visiting congregations.
Mr Prigozhin also repeatedly refused the Kremlin’s offer to see Wagner soldiers being absorbed into the official army, and continued to criticise – albeit less often than in the months that preceded the attempted coup – the Russian military leadership and the course of the war in Ukraine.
Speaking to his men camped in Belarus in a video that emerged in mid-July, Mr Prigozhin hit out at the Russian campaign in Ukraine as he said: “We did a lot for Russia. What is happening at the front now is a disgrace. We want no part of it.”
Considering the events of the past two months in relation with Mr Prigozhin, Dr Mathers said: “What can we make of all this? Prigozhin was clearly not willing to adopt a low profile and accept his punishment, the exile to Belarus, quietly, so in that respect the deal that was struck with him by Putin in the immediate aftermath of the mutiny was not working out very well for Russia’s president.”
While the Russian aviation agency said it is investigating the cause of the crash, a Telegram channel linked to Wagner claimed Mr Prigozhin had been killed by a Russia.
Many in the West also believe it likely Putin may have been involved in the incident, with US President Joe Biden saying he didn’t know “for a fact what happened” but he was not surprised to hear about Mr Prigozhin’s death.
He added: “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
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