Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin presumed dead in plane crash in Russia

Prigozhin had led a rebellion against Russian authorities earlier this year.

August 23, 2023, 4:56 PM

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the passenger list of a plane that crashed in Russia's Tver region on Wednesday, according to the press service of Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency. He is presumed dead.

Ten people were killed in the crash near the town of Kuzhenkino, including Prigozhin.

"An investigation has been launched into the crash of the Embraer aircraft, which occurred tonight in the Tver region. According to the list of passengers, among them is the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin," the department said in a statement.

Among the 10 dead were three crew members and seven passengers. The seven passengers were identified as Sergey Propustin, Evgeniy Makaryan, Aleksandr Totmin, Valeriy Chekalov, Dmitriy Utkin, Nikolay Matuseev and Prigozhin. Multiple pro-Wagner groups have claimed that Prigozhin was killed.

The crew was identified as Cmdr. Aleksei Levshin, co-pilot Rustam Karimov and flight attendant Kristina Raspopova.

Plane wreckage burns following an air accident in Tver, Russia, Aug. 23, 2023.
EyePress News/Shutterstock

The Federal Air Transport Agency said the plane was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a statement, "The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is a signal from Putin to Russia's elites ahead of the 2024 elections."

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the plane crash in Russia, according to the White House.

Biden told reporters he didn't "know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised."

"There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer," he told reporters in Lake Tahoe, where he is on vacation.

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves the headquarters of the Southern Military District amid the group's pullout from the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023.
Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement earlier in the day that officials were watching the reports of the plane crash.

"If confirmed, no one should be surprised. The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now -- it would seem -- to this," she said.

Firefighters work amid aircraft wreckage at an accident scene following the crash of a private jet in the Tver region, Russia, August 23, 2023.
Investigative Committee Of Russia via Reuters

Prigozhin is the head of the private paramilitary organization Wagner Group, which played a key role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine before briefly launching an insurrection against the Russian military in June. Forces loyal to Prigozhin marched toward Moscow, before turning back after several days.

Prigozhin allegedly struck a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin where he didn't face prosecution and was relocated to Belarus, according to the Kremlin. The Russian president and Prigozhin allegedly met face to face on June 29, less than a week after the failed coup, the Kremlin said.

On July 3, Prigozhin released a message on social media claiming the rebelling was aimed at "fighting traitors and mobilizing our society."

In this June 24, 2023, file photo, members of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, prior to leaving an area at the headquarters of the Southern Military District.

"I think we have achieved a lot of it. In the near future, I am sure that you will see our next victories at the front. Thanks guys," he allegedly said.

Prigozhin's last known public appearance came in a video dated Aug. 21 from an undisclosed location in Africa.

Prigozhin helped to launch the Wagner Group toward the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on the Crimean Peninsula around 2014, according to reports published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

In 2018, U.S. prosecutors charged Prigozhin for his suspected role in funding the Internet Research Agency, which the U.S. described as a Russian "troll farm" that sought to use digital campaigns to increase political and social tensions in the U.S.

In this Oct. 7, 2022, file photo, servicemen of Russian private military company Wagner Group execute a combat mission in the course of Russia's military operation in Ukraine, in Luhansk.
Viktor Antonyuk/Sputnik via AP, FILE

The Department of Justice accused the IRA of conspiring to "defraud the United States ... for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016."

The complaint described tactics like posing as U.S. citizens and creating false online personas.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

ABC News' Will Gretsky, Ben Gittleson, Nathan Luna and Leah Vredenbregt contributed to this report.