Wagner Group: Private military company that lost its leadership

Wagner Group: Private military company that lost its leadership

Group suffered major blow after private jet crash in Russia’s Tver region late Wednesday kills all 10 onboard, including Wagner head Prigozhin

By Burc Eruygur

ISTANBUL (AA) - After resorting to an “armed rebellion” that threatened the Russian leadership exactly two months ago, the Wagner paramilitary group once again made headlines following the death of its head, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

According to Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency late Wednesday, Prigozhin was among the passengers of an Embraer-135 aircraft flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg that crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino, killing all 10 onboard.

Among those onboard the plane was also Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin, a former lieutenant colonel in Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, and five other names affiliated with the paramilitary group.

Investigations into the incident were launched by the Federal Air Transport Agency, while Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement on Telegram that it initiated a criminal case on grounds of the "violation of traffic safety rules and operation of air transport."

However, the Federal Air Transport Agency said in its latest statement that the flight of the crashed plane was carried out “on the basis of a permit for the use of airspace, issued in accordance with the established procedure."

- ‘Armed rebellion’

Two months ago, the Wagner Group once again caught international media attention after Prigozhin accused the Russian military of attacking its fighters, crossed from Ukraine into the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, and began a “March of Justice” toward Moscow on June 23.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the claim, calling it an "informational provocation." Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) later called on Wagner fighters to arrest Prigozhin, and described his actions as a "stab in the back."

The FSB also initiated a criminal case against Wagner for "armed rebellion." Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled Wagner's uprising as an act of "treason."

Later that day, Prigozhin said his fighters decided to turn back "to avoid bloodshed" when they were 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Moscow.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he brokered a deal with Prigozhin, who agreed to de-escalate the situation and relocate his forces to Belarus.

Late Monday, pro-Wagner channels released a video address by Prigozhin, who spoke on camera for the first time since the failed “armed rebellion.”

- What is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group, officially called the Wagner PMC (private military company), was jointly founded in 2014 by Prigozhin, who was nicknamed “Putin’s chef” due to his restaurants supplying food to the Kremlin, and Utkin to support Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region.

The group was involved in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war that began in February 2022, but it initially made a name for itself through its involvement in Russia's annexation of Crimea, a move widely viewed as illegal by the international community, including Türkiye and the UN General Assembly.

During the Russia-Ukraine war, the paramilitary group was pivotal in Moscow’s alleged capture of Bakhmut, a transport and logistics hub in the Donetsk region, which is part of the largely Russian-speaking industrialized Donbas region.

It was also formally designated by the US as a "transnational criminal organization" in January.

When it was founded, Wagner began operating in Africa and the Middle East and was thought to have around 5,000 fighters, but has grown significantly since then.

Wagner continues to have a significant presence in these two regions through the role of its fighters in various conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, including the civil war in Syria.

Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Libya, and the Central African Republic are other countries where the group is said to be operating.

*Muhammet Tarhan and Salih Okuroglu contributed to this story from Ankara

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