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Wagner Group Decapitation Strike?
Who Is Responsible For Yevgeny Prigozhin's Death?
In a turn of events that was both unexpected and unsurprising, Wednesday evening the plane carrying Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin, along with Wagner co-founder Dimitry Utkin, crashed near Tver, Russia, shortly after departing from Moscow.
A private jet crashed in Russia on Wednesday, killing all 10 people aboard, emergency officials said. Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the passenger list, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was on board.
Although the initial reporting was uncertain if Prigozhin was on the crashed plane, subsequent reporting from Russian news sources appears to confirm that Prigozhin did, in fact, perish in the crash1. Despite having been threatened just two months ago by Prigozhin’s aborted mutiny, Vladimir Putin expressed public condolences over the deaths of Prigozhin and the nine other people on board.
Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with Acting Head of the DPR Denis Pushilin, expressed condolences to the families and friends of those killed in a plane crash in the Tver region.
“First of all, I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It is always a tragedy,” the president said.
He stressed that, according to primary data, the plane included employees of the Wagner Group. The head of state noted the significant contribution of these people to the fight against the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine. He said that in Russia they know about it and will never forget.
And just like that, Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of one of Russia’s more successful military formations in the war in Ukraine and leader of a bizarre but aborted mutiny, was no more. With Dmitry Utkin also gone, one might be forgiven for observing this plane crash amounts to a brutally effective decapitation strike against the Wagner Group.
Whether by intent or by happenstance, that is the outcome. But who did it?
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To apprehend the significance of Prigozhin’s death, one must first appreciate the extent to which Prigozhin and Wagner Group served Putin and the Kremlin as a sort of “black ops for hire” organization.
As investigative media site Bellingcat detailed in 2020, Prigozhin’s involvement in the shadows of the Kremlin’s covert ops has been expansive.
Today, his official business is a sprawling catering consortium that provides meals to millions of Russian soldiers, policemen, prosecutors, hospital patients and schoolchildren in return for hefty tax-funded payments estimated at at least $3 billion since 2011. Yet his unofficial operations fit the profile of an authoritarian state’s shadow security apparatus: industrial-scale manufacturing of fake-news, intimidating journalists, election interference, political engineering, and actual clandestine military operations. Prigozhin was famously indicted in the US over the role of his troll factory in trying to influence the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump, a charge he flatly denies to this day. His troll-factory generated one of the largest known online disinformation campaigns, churning out 71,000 tweets aimed at presenting Russia’s version of events in the downing of flight MH17. The same troll infrastructure posted thousands of messages promoting Brexit. Prigozhin has also been linked to Kremlin-friendly political engineering across dozens of African countries while he has been sanctioned by the US over his funding for the Wagner Group, an unincorporated private military company with a history of clandestine operations in Eastern Ukraine, Syria and several African countries. It was most recently accused of placing booby-trapped mines around Libya’s Tripoli. The EU has yet to sanction him or his metastatic group over any of his activities.
According to the BBC, Wagner Group mercenaries were involved in the 2019-2020 Libyan conflict between rogue general Khalifa Haftar and the government in Tripoli.
Wagner's fighters appeared in Libya in April 2019 when they joined the forces of a rebel general, Khalifa Haftar, after he launched an attack on the UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli. The conflict ended in a ceasefire in October 2020.
Deutsche Welle reports that Wagner Group has been a key part of Russia’s influence operations in Mali since at least 2021—a brutal and bloody part.
Russia has also expanded its presence in crisis-ridden Mali. The Russian private military company Wagner has been present in Mali since the end of 2021, according to independent observers and media investigations.
The Guardian newspaper cited seeing internal Malian army documents that refer to “Russian instructors” who are on “mixed missions”.
In Mali, Wagner mercenaries have been linked to a series of incidents resulting in the killings of hundreds of civilians.
In the most serious case, Malian forces together with Wagner soldiers reportedly killed at least 350 people in a four-day massacre the village of Moura in March.
In 2022, Human Rights Watch cited witness testimony implicating Wagner Group mercenaries in a massacre in the Central African Republic town of Bossangoa in June, 2021.
What did witnesses say happened in Bossangoa?
"Based on its interviews, Human Rights Watch concluded that between four and six men blocked the road about 12 kilometers [7.5 miles] north of Bossangoa. They were standing next to four motorbikes, spoke Russian, and wore beige khaki clothes, scarves to cover their faces, military boots, gloves, and sunglasses," HRW said.
The uniformed men allegedly stopped a group of civilians who tried to pass through the road on motorbikes. The civilians were told to hand over their phones and money. According to witnesses, the armed group then surrounded the civilians and started beating them, before two of the uniformed men pulled the civilians to the side one by one, forced them to kneel and shot them in the head. The rest of the victims started praying loudly, with the distraction allowing two of them to escape.
In the Sudan, Wagner Group mercenaries have been used to safeguard gold mines either owned or controlled by Prigozhin.
Sudan has long been a particular focus for Wagner mercenaries, and there are many of them there. Back during the rule of the dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was in power from 1993 to 2019, licences already went to the Russian firm "M-Invest," which is probably under the control of oligarchs, including Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. This led to Wagner members being given the job of protecting the M-Invest gold mines in Sudan.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the new military junta in Niger had reached out to Wagner Group forces in neighboring Mali for assistance in remaining in power.
Niger’s new military junta has asked for help from the Russian mercenary group Wagner as the deadline nears for it to release the country’s ousted president or face possible military intervention by the West African regional bloc, according to an analyst.
The request came during a visit by a coup leader, Gen. Salifou Mody, to neighboring Mali, where he made contact with someone from Wagner, Wassim Nasr, a journalist and senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, told The Associated Press. He said three Malian sources and a French diplomat confirmed the meeting first reported by France 24.
“They need (Wagner) because they will become their guarantee to hold onto power,” he said, adding that the group is considering the request. A Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, told the AP they have also heard reports that the junta asked for help from Wagner in Mali.
Based on their known contracts, Wagner Group would appear to be a significant player and possibly even power broker on the African continent. While it is too soon to say with certainty that Wagner Group will not be able to carry on in these countries without their leader and co-founder, how well Wagner Group will be able to continue these operations is uncertain to say the very least.
Russia’s ongoing influence operations in these African countries is almost certain to be impacted—but to what degree?
Wagner Group is embroiled in Russia’s African involvement in large part because of Prigozhin’s long-standing connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin and Putin first crossed paths in the early 1990s, when Putin was deputy mayor of Moscow.
Long before he was indicted by the United States in a case involving the troll factory that spearheaded Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 United States elections, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin emerged from prison just as the Soviet Union was collapsing and opened a hot-dog stand.
Soon, he has said, the rubles were piling up faster than his mother could count them in the kitchen of their modest apartment, and he was set on his improbable career. He earned the slightly mocking nickname of “Putin’s cook.”
Despite his humble, troubled youth, Mr. Prigozhin became one of Russia’s richest men, joining a charmed circle whose members often share one particular attribute: their proximity to President Vladimir V. Putin. The small club of loyalists who gain Mr. Putin’s trust often feast, as Mr. Prigozhin has, on enormous state contracts. In return, they are expected to provide other, darker services to the Kremlin as needed.
In the kleptocracy that has been Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, Prigozhin built up his business ventures (and amassed a huge fortune along the way) by leveraging his willingness to do Putin’s dirty work.
So entrenched is Wagner Group in Russian influence operations that, in the wake of Prigozhin’s sudden mutiny in June, the Kremlin promised Wagner’s African client states that Wagner Group forces would not be withdrawn.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has moved to reassure allies in Africa that thousands of Wagner group fighters deployed to the continent will not be withdrawn after the mutiny led by their commander Yevgeny Prigozhin over the weekend.
In an interview with Russia Today, Lavrov pledged that “instructors” and “private military contractors” would remain in Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, the two countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Wagner has the biggest presence.
Both are considered strategic prizes by the Kremlin, which sees them as a springboard to greater influence on the continent and a source of lucrative natural resources.
Which begs the question: what happens to these forces now that Prigozhin is dead?
One view is that Wagner Group will continue more or less “business as usual” in Africa. The theory here, as articulated by Sean McFate, author of “The Modern Mercenary” is that Prigozhin’s forces, being more loyal to a paycheck than Prigozhin personally, will continue to operate under the Kremlin’s patronage, merely with a less flamboyant leader.
probably what's going to happen is that somebody within the Wagner organization will step up and take Prigozhin's CEO slot but with - who's more respectful of Putin and has Putin's blessing because Wagner wasn't just, you know, one guy in charge of a lot of different individuals. It had some hierarchy and etc. So I think we'll see some replacement like that.
To a degree, that makes sense. Certainly if Russia wants to continue influencing the juntas in central Africa and the Sahel, maintaining the mercenary forces propping up these dictatorships is essential.
It'll continue. It may not have the name Wagner, you know, but when Prigozhin marched on Moscow and then when Putin blew out, you know, Prigozhin's plane from the air, likely, this is how mercenaries and masters negotiate because there's no court of law. They do it through force. We've seen this throughout history. And I think that Putin needs a force like Wagner in Africa to carry out Russia's interests there, which is basically creating juntas in Africa that are not Western-facing, but Moscow-facing and extracting gold and other minerals to fuel the war in Ukraine.
This thesis also, of course, implies that Putin had Prigozhin killed.
As is to be expected given Prigozhin’s surreal aborted mutiny during the summer, his death has invited no end of speculation that Putin was behind the plane crash, deciding to put an end to his former ally and apparent new adversary Prigozhin.
Prigozhin supporters claimed on pro-Wagner messaging app channels that the plane had been deliberately downed. Some suggested it could have been hit by an air-defence missile, or targeted by a bomb on board. These claims could not be independently verified. Numerous opponents and critics of Vladimir Putin have been killed or gravely sickened in apparent assassination attempts.
Even Reuters carried speculation by the United States that Prigozhin’s plane was shot down by Russian forces.
The United States believes a surface-to-air missile originating from inside Russia likely shot down the plane presumed to be carrying mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.
The obvious reason for Putin to assassinate Prigozhin is, of course, Prigozhin’s mutiny two months ago. However, even before Prigozhin’s demise, there has been speculation that Wagner Group would see a reshuffling and organizational change in its Africa engagements as a result of the mutiny.
Predictions of the end of the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa and the Middle East in the aftermath of its ill-fated rebellion in Russia are premature. More likely, Wagner’s Middle East and Africa operations will persist: They still serve multiple interests of the Russian state and can be separated from Wagner’s Ukraine and Russia operations. Already, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stated that Wagner’s operations in Africa will continue. But Wagner’s operations in Africa are likely to endure under a new leadership and structure.
With Foreign Minister Lavrov promising African governments Wagner’s continued presence on the continent in the wake of Prigozhin’s sudden march on Moscow, killing Prigozhin is a way to remove the possibility of future disruptions to those operations, albeit in a manner reminiscent of Michael Corleone of The Godfather.
Indeed, Wagner Group’s creation was due in no small part to the Kremlin’s need to contain its embarrassment from a 2013 mercenary fiasco involving, among others, Wagner Group co-founder Dmitry Utkin.
Third, there have been prior instances of the reshuffling of Russian private security companies in the Middle East when they fell afoul of various Russian intelligence services. In 2013, a Russian private security company, the Slavonic Corps, led by Dmitry Utkin, the notorious former Russian special operations forces officer, was sent to Syria to fight ISIS on behalf of the Assad regime. Yet in an inglorious retreat, they were not only chased out of Syria but also arrested in Moscow. Still, Utkin and various commanders and members of the Slavonic Corps were later allowed to form cadres under the Wagner Group. (Utkin, who hasn’t been heard from for several weeks, is now likely a prime target of the Kremlin’s ire.)
With Utkin also having perished in the plane crash, was this Putin’s way of “settling all family business”?
With Prigozhin and Utkin out of the way, does Putin have a free hand to reorganize the Wagner formations in Africa, perhaps breaking them up into multiple entities to dilute the power and influence of each?
Beyond purges, the Wagner Group in Africa may be renamed and broken up into multiple separate entities. Chopping up Wagner this way would give the Russian state better control over the proxy, even as the network’s murkiness would persist, and rival Kremlin and Russian intelligence and security services could clash with one another in mercenary and business ventures.
Under better control, Russia will likely tolerate and retain Russian private security companies operating abroad. Unlike in Syria, where the Russian military has had an official presence since 2017, sending official “military advisors” to African countries, instead of private proxies, poses various legal and diplomatic inconveniences for Russia and the African countries.
There is also some support for this thesis in reports that Putin is requiring Wagner mercenaries to sign an oath of allegiance. If Putin intends to keep Wagner mercenaries in the field, particularly in the Sahel, securing their loyalty despite Prigozhin’s assassination is paramount.
Going by this thesis, the time between Prigozhin’s mutiny and Prigozhin’s death was the time needed to for the Kremlin to take over Wagner operations. This is also consistent with the recent introduction of General Andrey Averyanov, head of covert operations within Russian military intelligence to Wagner’s African clientele.
Current and former European security officials said Putin had been taking steps in recent weeks to gradually take control of Wagner’s military operations. This included positioning Gen. Andrey Averyanov, the head of covert offensive operations in Russia’s military intelligence service, to take over Wagner’s Africa ventures, the current and former officials said.
Averyanov—whom Western officials have accused of ordering the assassination of Russian dissidents abroad, including poisonings with the nerve agent novichok—publicly introduced himself to Moscow’s top African allies at a summit in St. Petersburg in late July.
Averyanov’s appearance in Africa is very much in keeping with the intent voiced by Russian diplomats immediately after the Wagner mutiny to put Wagner operations in Africa under a different command.
The rush of diplomatic activity reflected Vladimir Putin’s attempt to play down the chaos at home and to assure Russia’s partners in Africa and the Middle East that Wagner operations there would continue without interruption according to diplomats and intelligence officers, Wagner defectors, people briefed on the conversations and a review of international flight data. From now on, however, in Moscow’s preferred outcome, those operations would be under new management
Russia, which for years denied any association with Wagner, appears to be trying to take over the far-flung mercenary network managed by Prigozhin and his lieutenants. Despite Saturday’s failed mutiny exposed fractures within Russia’s rule elite, it isn’t clear how much it can or how quickly.
“Wagner helped Russia build its influence, and the government is loath to give it up,” said J. Peter Pham, former special envoy for the West African Sahel region. “Wagner gave the state deniability. The question is whether they can manage its complexity and deal with additional scrutiny.”
If Moscow’s plan ever since the mutiny has been to replace Wagner’s leadership while keeping the PMC’s contracts more or less intact, killing Prigozhin would almost be an inevitability.
If we follow this thesis, the conclusion is that Wagner Group was not a problem for Putin per se, but Prigozhin had become a liability, particularly after the June mutiny. Eliminating Prigozhin allows Putin to create multiple “Prigozhins” in his stead, but with reduced power and influence.
So to paraphrase, from the Kremlin’s perspective: If Prigozhin is dead, long live the new Prigozhins.
Alternatively, Prigozhin’s death could mean the end of the Wagner Group completely. In this view, the Russian military has been steadily depleting Wagner forces, moving them either into the formal Russian military or to other Russian private military contractors.
The Russian Defense Ministry said last month the Wagner Group was completing a handover of thousands of tons of weaponry to the Russian military, while mercenaries were being urged to sign new contracts with the Russian Armed Forces and other Kremlin-affiliated private military contractors, including Redut PMC.
Mercenaries’ refusal to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry despite pressure from Moscow was a key source of the discontent that led Prigozhin and Wagner to launch its ill-fated revolt in June.
In this view of events, even the African formations are being steadily eliminated in favor of other PMCs.
“What’s been happening in Africa is that the Russian government has been trying to replace those Wagner operations with official government-controlled ones,” Jason Bush, senior analyst at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.
“They’ve been persuading Wagner personnel to sign new contracts with the Russian military — that’s what has been happening in Syria and certainly parts of Africa.”
Given the depletion of its forces, through both massive losses in Ukraine and systematic dismantling by the Kremlin, Bush said “it’s not really that clear that there is much left of Wagner,” adding that the world’s most infamous mercenary force has become a “pale imitation” of its former self.
“There’s something left and Prigozhin was trying to preserve it, but certainly not much compared to what it was and the trend was clear that it has been pushed out of the picture,” Bush said.
If we follow this theory, then the time delay between the mutiny and Putin’s revenge has been the time necessary to put the necessary people and mechanisms in place to transfer Wagner’s African efforts to other units.
Bush suggested that in light of the June mutiny, Putin “bided his time” in initially disarming and disbursing Wagner close to home while slowly facilitating a transfer of power in the contractor’s security operations in Africa and the Middle East.
“He didn’t want to cause complications with the African leaders who’d hired Wagner thinking they were government-backed Russian mercenaries only to discover that they weren’t, so he had to organize that transition. I think two months later, he felt in a very much stronger position to exact his revenge,” he said.
This theory is consistent with reporting that another Russian PMC, Redut, with ties to Russian intelligence, is positioned to replace Wagner Group.
A mercenary fighting force led by Russian military intelligence is likely to fill the void left by the Wagner Group, whose volatile founder Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly died in a plane crash Wednesday.
With the group now leaderless — as at least seven others, including a high-ranking Wagner commander, are also believed to have died in the crash — other private Russian security “firms” are expected to vie to take its place.
The most likely candidate to take over Wagner’s missions and business assets is Redut, a mercenary group controlled by Russian intelligence which began as an arrangement between oligarchs with Kremlin ties and top army brass, The Telegraph reported.
This view of events still points the finger at Putin and/or the Kremlin for Prigozhin’s death.
Who else might have had a motive?
Ukraine, of course, has an obvious motive, given Wagner Group’s record of brutality in Ukraine. Moreover, Ukraine with its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles has the means for an air-to-air strike.
Everybody seems to have forgotten that Wagner boss Prigozhin's elimination occurred just in time for Ukraine's Independence Day. Remember that Kyiv promised ‘special surprises’ for the occasion. Among the scenarios, the strong possibility of Ukrainian involvement should be seriously considered. Let us do so.
Russian TV stations rather painstakingly explained that Prigozhin’s flight (carrying Wagner's top brass) had inexplicably switched off its transponder and gone 'dark' or stealthy. At the same time, apparently, a Ukrainian drone was in the vicinity. Therefore, the explanation goes, Russian air defense may have mistakenly shot down the Embraer airliner carrying Prigozhin as an unidentifiable hostile element, early in its trajectory from Moscow to St. Petersburg, some 300 km from the capital.
While at 28,000 feet the jet would be above the operational ceiling of Ukrainian drones, an air-to-air missile could potentially cross that gap.
Admittedly, we have not yet seen examples of UAV's engaging in air-to-air hostilities yet every day brings word of drones adapted to novel uses, not least in their ability to reach Moscow. But, you might argue, the jet had attained 28,000 feet which is higher than Ukrainian UAV capability that we know. Well, Ukrainians have the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar drones that reach 25,000 feet and the remaining 3000 can be encompassed by a guided-missile. The TB2 can also stay in flight for 24 hours. Which scenario may also explain why Prigozhin's plane went dark, if we can trust Russian reports enough to believe that it did. Did the plane's sensors spot a drone in the vicinity or a missile homing onto their flight path? Undoubtedly, the Embraer jet has radar warning capability of anything else in its air space, not least to avoid collision. It may also, in wartime, have a parallel system alerting radar lock-on or fast-approaching airborne objects. To stop being tracked further by a nearby object like a drone, the pilots switched off the transponder.
If Kyiv is responsible for Prigozhin’s death, not only would they gain revenge for Wagner Group outrages in Ukraine, but they would also send a brutal message to Putin and the rest of the Kremlin: you are not safe.
Since they cannot publicly credit Kyiv for such a triumph, only Putin and his top brass would garner the lethal message of the symbolism and its practical repercussions. No one is safe around Moscow's skies, not even Putin himself. Furthermore, no one near power will trust Putin's word or seeming loyalty. The Wagner mercenaries, infuriated by their leader’s death, could turn on the Kremlin again. Expect widespread sabotage to increase. Many ordinary Russians who sympathized with Prigozhin's rebellion will also feel aggrieved. The ramifications multiply endlessly. If you ask “cui bono”, it has to be Ukraine above all.
Given Ukraine’s steady stream of drone attacks on Moscow, this scenario is at the very least not implausible.
A building in Moscow has been struck by a drone in yet another nighttime attack on the Russian capital.
The drone hit a building under construction and two others were shot down by air defences as President Vladimir Putin’s capital came under siege for the sixth night in a row.
A drone takedown of Prigozhin’s aircraft coming on the heels of a series of drone attacks on Moscow goes a long way towards discrediting Russian air defense, and discrediting it in the eyes of Putin and the rest of the Kremlin. Again, the subtext of such an attack would be clear: you (Russia) are not safe.
Ultimately, all of these theories are mere speculation. Barring an unusual bit of transparency by the Kremlin, we are not likely to see solid verifiable evidence confirming this plane crash to be an assassination engineered by…somebody.
However, as these are speculations, we must also acknowledge that the United States and NATO could also stand to gain from the assassination, particularly if Wagner operations in Africa collapse and Putin is unable to fill the void. Given the importance of Wagner forces to the continuation of a number of juntas in the Sahel region in Africa particularly, If Wagner collapses in Africa and cannot be replaced, Russian influence in the region will diminish.
Positing the US/NATO as the prime actor in Prigozhin’s death is rather a mirror image of the rationale whereby the Kremlin benefits from assassinating Prigozhin. The Kremlin assassination theories presume Russia is able to keep the Wagner Group forces in Africa more or less intact, albeit under a different PMC organization or under the regular Russian military. If we flip the presumption to Russia cannot keep the Wagner Group forces in Africa more or less intact, the Kremlin’s gain is quickly transformed into the Kremlin’s loss. The juntas in Niger and Mali especially might find themselves being ousted, potentially by an armed intervention by other west African nations.
If the US/NATO (especially France, given its historical influence in the Sahel) is able to exploit the vacuum presumably left by the disappearing Wagner Group, that would be a geopolitical gain for the US and NATO. However, this is hypothetical is also why this scenario is of fairly low probability; there is little reason to assume as a given that NATO influence in the Sahel would increase if Wagner Group departed from Africa.
Eliminating the Wagner Group arguably also aids Ukraine’s efforts to regain its lost territories. The Wagner Group has been one of the more successful Russian formations in Ukraine, and permanently removing it from the order of battle could theoretically diminish Russian capabilities in Ukraine even further. However, particularly in the wake of Prigozhin’s mutiny, Wagner Group has already been removed from the Ukrainian theater of operations, making the loss of Wagner capabilities a present reality rather than a future probability.
The upside to the US/NATO of assassinating Prigozhin, while not zero, is fairly low, relative to Russia and even Ukraine.
Did the Kremlin or someone else assassinate Yevgeny Prigozhin? Ultimately, the only logical answer right now is “we do not know.” There are possible hints of evidence that could suggest an assassination, but right now there just is not the sort of crystal clear evidence we need to say “So-and-so did it.”
The Kremlin might have assassinated Prigozhin, either on the orders of Putin himself or part of the Russian military chain of command. If the plane crash was an assassination, Putin and/or the Kremlin are the most likely suspects, as their motives are the clearest and their means the most straightforward.
Ukraine might have assassinated Prigozhin. Their motives are every bit as clear, although their means not quite as straightforward as the Kremlin’s.
The US/NATO might have assassinated Prigozhin. This theory seems a bit of a stretch, as it requires that Wagner not only disappear without Prigozhin but that the void left behind in Africa cannot be filled, which seems unlikely. If the Wagner group does not leave a void behind there is little tangible benefit to NATO by killing him now.
The one sure conclusion we can make, even with just speculations, is that the Kremlin, Ukraine, and the US/NATO all would have zero qualms about carrying out such an assassination. Whether or not any of them actually did is likely to remain a topic of speculation for some time to come.
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There continues to be some lingering uncertainty about whether Prigozhin was in fact on the plane that crashed. Reuters has a report on a second plane believed by some to be linked to Wagner Group flying the same flight path some 40 minutes ahead of Prigozhin’s plane. Whether this is a significant detail or not is unknown as of this writing.