Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was feared killed yesterday along with nine others.
His death in a plane crash in Russia 30 minutes after take off, came a few days after appearing in a video at a time he was believed to be in Congo, showed up in Mali, dressed in military fatigue.
He claimed that the arrival of its team in Mali is to assist the Mali military government to dislodge terrorists and “any other interest”.
The Federal Agency for Air Transport of Russia has reportedly initiated an investigation into the crash that happened in the Tver Region, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
Emergency response services told TASS that four bodies have been found. The plane reportedly caught fire after hitting the ground and burned up. It had been in flight less than 30 minutes.
Unconfirmed media reports said the jet belonged to Prigozhin.
Earlier, a Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone reported that the jet was shot down by air defences in Tver region, north of Moscow.
Grey Zone said local residents heard two bangs before the crash and saw two vapour trails.
The aircraft had been in the air for less than half an hour, it said.
Tass news agency said the plane caught fire on hitting the ground, adding that four bodies had already been found.
Mali and Burkina Faso, also ruled by military junta, have both declared their backing for the Niger coupists, who are also claimed to be lobbying the Wagner Group.
Prigozhin, whose private military force Wagner fought alongside Russia’s regular army in Ukraine, mounted a short-lived armed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in late June.
After the mutiny, the Kremlin said he would be exiled to Belarus, and his fighters would might retire, follow him there or join the Russian military.
President Putin’s initial reaction to his challenge to Russia’s defence establishment was vitriolic, calling it a betrayal and a stab in the back in a video message on 24 June.
“Revenge”, commented CIA director William Burns, “is a dish Putin prefers served cold” – or words to that effect.
None of this, of course, is proof that Prigozhin and his entourage were deliberately targeted.
But given the circumstances any claims that his demise, if confirmed, was an accident will see a lot of eyebrows raised.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “not surprised” by news of Prigozhin’s possible death.