‘Prigozhin’s death is classic Putin — this is the biggest clue he ordered it’

Wagner Group issue statement after death of Yevgeny Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash is a “signature sign of Putin”, Express.co.uk has been told.

The Wagner Group chief is believed to have been one of ten passengers who died when his commercial jet crashed in the Tver region, around 100 miles north of Moscow.

Some have already attributed the death to the Kremlin, including social media channels with ties to Wagner.

In June, Prigozhin and some of his troops led a failed mutiny, stopping just short of Moscow, the capital, for which many have speculated Russian President Vladimir Putin would never forgive him.

Natia Seskuria, a Russia expert, has said the crash is retribution for that failed mutiny and has all the hallmarks of a Kremlin hit job — but with a twist.

READ MORE ‘I’m a Russia expert — this is why Prigozhin may have staged his death’

“Killing Prigozhin in this way is very much a signature of Putin,” she said. “I’m inclined to believe this wasn’t an accident and that plane was shot down either by the Russian air defences or an explosion has happened aboard.”

Ms Seskuria, the founder and director of the Georgia-based Regional Institute for Security Studies (RISS), noted that Putin “simply does not forgive” those who go against him and would have been aware of setting a “dangerous precedent” if Prigozhin was allowed to live after the mutiny.

She continued: “I think what Putin is trying to do is send a message to his potential opponents, including the ones who are a part of the elite and who might be serving in leadership positions who might be disappointed with the war effort in Ukraine.

“This is a message for them that nobody survives any initiative to go against the regime.”

If Putin did order Prigozhin’s death, the method by which the killing took place is almost unprecedented in Russia.

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In the past, dissidents and opponents have been poisoned with nerve agents, others have mysteriously fallen off balconies or down staircases. Some have even been found hanged in their homes, often accompanied by suicide notes.

The shooting down or bombing of a plane containing 10 passengers would mark the most public assassination yet, something that Ms Seskuria said proves Putin is willing to take no “precautions”.

“Putin could have poisoned him or said he was found dead due to unfortunate circumstances — nobody would be able to simply find out how it happened in those events. Even though people would’ve pointed at the Kremlin, there would still be a mystery to it all.

“But this is a direct way of telling and sending a message: ‘It’s us, and it happened because Prigozhin decided to go against Putin’s regime’.”

In June, shortly after the failed mutiny, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said that Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) had been tasked with killing Prigozhin.

“In any case, all of such potential assassination attempts will not be fast,” he told the War Zone media outlet.

“It will take them some time to have the proper approaches and to reach the stage when they’re ready to conduct a huge operation.”

On June 27, the FSB claimed it had closed a criminal case over Prigozhin’s armed insurrection. UK defence sources tell the BBC that they believe the FSB is most likely behind his death.

As the news spread across Russia, many well-wishers turned out to pay their respects to the Wagner boss.

Shrines have been erected around the country, including outside the PMC Wagner office in Novosibirsk, Siberia, where men in army fatigues and Wagner patches have been pictured crying in front of photographs of Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, the group’s co-founder.

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