Russian Wagner Group Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Reportedly Dies in Plane Crash Two Months After Leading Putin Rebellion

Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool via AP

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s Wagner Group who challenged the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this summer, is believed to be dead. He was listed on the flight manifest of a private plane that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday. Russian state media is reporting that 10 people, including Prigozhin, have died.

The business jet was apparently traveling from the Russian capital to St. Petersburg when it went down in the Tver region, according to the TASS news agency. “Prigozhin was listed among the passengers, according to the Federal Air Transport Agency,” read a post by TASS on Telegram. “An investigation into the crash of the Embraer aircraft has been launched, the department noted.”

The news broke while Megyn was live on the air on Wednesday, and she was joined by the hosts of The Fifth Column – Kmele Foster, Michael Moynihan, and Matt Welch – to discuss Prigozhin’s presumed passing and what it says about Putin.

Who Is Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Prigozhin made international news when his Wagner Group of mercenary fighters launched what was considered by many to be the most significant challenge to Putin in some two decades. Beginning June 23 – two months to the day before the plane crash – Prigozhin’s men kicked off an offensive against the Russian military and marched to within 125 miles of Moscow before he abruptly ended the operation and was exiled to Belarus.

Once referred to by The Moscow Times as Putin’s “personal chef,” Prigozhin founded the Wagner Group in 2014 on the heels of the Russian-backed separatist movement in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The mercenary outfit was believed to be fighting for Russian causes around the world, including in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Mali, Ukraine, and Syria. 

Prigozhin became a more outspoken critic of Putin and Russia’s military leaders in the lead up to his June rebellion. He complained of insufficient resources and support before leading the armed uprising. Putin initially branded Prigozhin a traitor amid the revolt, but the criminal case against him was later dropped. 

A video of Prigozhin posted Monday allegedly showed him in Africa carrying out activities aimed at “making Russia even greater on all continents and Africa even freer.”

Putin’s Power Play

While Megyn was cautious to “not get ahead of my skis,” she said the plane crash is “awfully coincidental” and in line with “how Vladimir Putin acts when you try to betray him.” 

Moynihan said there is “0.0001 percent chance that this is accidental.” He went on to name a list of ‘enemies’ to Putin and his regime who have faced a similar fate in recent decades, including former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko who was “poisoned with polonium and died an excruciating death” while living in London in 2006; Anna Politkovskaya, the “incredible journalist” from Novaya Gazeta, one of the only independent newspapers in Russia that was shuttered at the start of the war in Ukraine, who was “brutally assassinated” in her Moscow apartment building also in 2006; “anti-Putin campaigner” Boris Nemtsov who was shot in the head steps from the Kremlin in 2015; double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, who were poisoned to death in Salisbury, England, in 2018; and opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was just sentenced to another 19 years in prison. 

In Moynihan’s view, this was an inevitable end for Prigozhin. “He was living on borrowed time because he did the thing that nobody dared to do, and he did it quite effectively,” he explained. “I’m surprised it took this long, but it is a clear message: Do not try this.”

Putin already had, in Moynihan’s words, “shaky support” because of how the war in Ukraine has gone, and what Prigozhin and the Wagner Group were able to accomplish left him further exposed. “That showed a weakness and [Putin] had to show some strength,” he said. “And the ‘strength’ is to murder 10 other people, too. If there are people in the way to get to that one person, he’ll do it.”

Megyn said it is a stark reminder of what we “are dealing with” in Russia. “I do think that there is some sort of a belief that [Putin] is a man we can work with… a man we can negotiate with,” she concluded. “This is not somebody who plays by any rules with which we are familiar.”

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with The Fifth Column by tuning in to episode 613 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.