Our live coverage of the plane crash and Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
Leon Panetta, former US defense secretary and ex-CIA director, told CNN it's likely that Russia will try to take over the Wagner mercenary group, following the crash of a plane purportedly carrying its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
"I think they are going to be very concerned about allowing these guys basically to continue to operate on their own," Panetta said.
"So I would not be surprised if they assert control over the Wagner Group in Africa, Asia, and wherever else they may be located. For that matter, I think those in the Wagner Group have got to worry about their own lives as well."
Some context: The plane crash in Russia comes just two days after a video circulating on pro-Russia military blogs showed Prigozhin claiming he was in Africa “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even freer.”
Wagner fighters have been active in several African countries, including Mali, where they were invited by the ruling junta to quell an Islamic insurgency brewing near the country’s borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.
A number of CNN investigations, and others by human rights groups, have established Wagner’s involvement in and complicity with atrocities against civilian populations in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Bill Browder, a critic of Vladimir Putin, told CNN Wednesday he believes there is "no doubt" the Russian President is behind the crash of a plane purportedly carrying Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
"Putin is a man who never forgives and never forgets," said Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and formerly the largest foreign investor in Russia before he was expelled from the country.
"Prigozhin basically betrayed him. He was disloyal. He organized a rebellion," he added.
"Putin absolutely can't allow that to go on because, if he does, then other people will get the same idea. Putin has ruled for 23 years as a strongman, as a dictator. And Prigozhin made him look weak. And so this is what happens when you make Putin look weak."
Some context: Prigozhin was on board a plane that crashed with no survivors northwest of Moscow, according to Russian authorities, just months after he launched a mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. The June revolt was called off in a deal that required Prigozhin and his fighters to relocate to Belarus.
Wednesday's plane crash in Russia will not change the White House’s posture toward the Kremlin or the war in Ukraine, a US official told CNN.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, was on board the plane that crashed with no survivors northwest of Moscow, according to Russian authorities, just months after he launched a mutiny against Russia’s military leadership.
“Putin has a very long history of silencing his critics,” the US official said Wednesday.
The official noted that the eventual death of Prigozhin was largely expected by the Biden administration after the Wagner chief brokered a deal with the Kremlin in June.
“We’ll continue to support Ukraine in Russia’s war,” the official said, “and push for accountability for the atrocities Russian forces are committing in Ukraine, included those committed by the Wagner forces.”
The National Security Council would not confirm the veracity of reports of Prigozhin’s death, referring to its earlier statement: “We have seen the reports. 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.”
Biden's reaction: Earlier, US President Joe Biden suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been behind the plane crash.
"You may recall, I was asked about this," Biden told CNN, alluding to comments he made in July in which he said Prighozin should be worried about his safety following the failed mutiny. "I said I would be careful what I rode in. I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised," Biden said Wednesday.
People gathered in St. Petersburg Wednesday night to leave tributes for Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin after Russian authorities said he was on a plane that crashed with no survivors.
Video showed members of the public unfurling a large banner outside the Wagner private military company's headquarters that read, “Wagner PMC. We are together.”
People also placed flowers, lit candles, and left Wagner PMC chevron patches near to the entrance of the Wagner Center.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia's aviation agency said Prigozhin was on board a private jet that crashed north of Moscow, killing all on board.
As reports of the crash poured in on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Kursk region leading a ceremony honoring both the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk and Russian forces currently fighting in Ukraine.
The anniversary relates to a clash near Kursk in 1943, during World War II, when the forces of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union clashed in a major tank battle, resulting in a Soviet victory.
Putin gave a speech at the solemn event at a memorial built in the village of Ponyri, in the Kursk region, and presented state awards to participants in what Russia still describes as its "special military operation" in Ukraine.
"The whole burden of fighting today, as in the years of the Great Patriotic War, lies primarily on our soldiers, on those who are on the front line," Putin said at the event.
"All our fighters fight bravely and decisively. Devotion to the Motherland, loyalty to the military oath unite all participants in the special military operation," he said.
Putin's speech, and the elaborate, highly choreographed ceremony, were broadcast on state television Wednesday evening local time. In the same newscast, on state channel Russia 24, there was a report about a plane crash in Tver region, and that Yevgeny Prigozhin's name was among the names of the passengers.
Putin's remarks aired around 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), while state media reported that the crash had occurred around 6 p.m. local time. Russian Emergency services said at the time that the Embraer aircraft came down near the village of Kuzhenkino, in Tver region, while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg. There were 10 people on board, including three crew members, and all were killed, said Russian state media.
During the ceremony in Kursk, which Putin described as "grandiose," the Russian president presented a state award to the crew of the ‘Alyosha’ T-80 tank, which was claimed to have destroyed a Ukrainian armored convoy on the Zaporizhzhia axis, according to state news agency TASS.
While in Kursk, Putin also met with residents, video that aired on Russia 24 showed. Residents shook hands with Putin and some even gave him a hug, in the Russia 24 clip.
Earlier in the day, Putin addressed, via video link, the BRICS summit that is underway in Johannesburg, claiming that Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in order to end a war “unleashed by the West.”
The "demonstrative elimination of (Yevgeny) Prigozhin" shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin "does not forgive anyone for his own bestial terror," Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, claimed on social media.
"About Prigozhin: It is worth waiting for the fog of war to disappear... Meanwhile, it is obvious that Putin does not forgive anyone for his own bestial terror. Exactly the one that nullified him in June 2023," Podolyak said.
The crash comes two months after Prigozhin launched a mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. The attempted rebellion was called off in a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that required Prigozhin and his fighters to relocate to Belarus.
But Podolyak claimed Putin was "waiting for the moment."
"It is also obvious that Prigozhin signed a special death warrant for himself the moment he believed in Lukashenko's bizarre 'guarantees' and Putin's equally absurd 'word of honor," he said, referring to the deal that ended the Wagner group's short-lived rebellion.
Following that deal, criminal charges were dropped against the Wagner boss. But Putin said in a speech at the time that those on the “path of treason” would face punishment.
"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. 'Beware! Disloyalty equals death,'" Podolyak claimed Wednesday. "But it is also a signal to the Russian military: There will be no 'SVO [special military operation] heroes.' If it isn't a Ukrainian tribunal, it will be an FSB bullet."
The Kremlin is yet to comment on the crash.
This post has been updated.
The crash comes months after Prigozhin launched a mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. The attempted rebellion was called off in a deal that required Prigozhin and his fighters to relocate to Belarus.
Here's what you need to know about the crash and other recent developments in the Russia-Ukraine war:
- Prigozhin on list of passengers aboard plane, Russia's aviation agency says: The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency said that Prigozhin was among the people on board the plane that crashed in the western Tver region. A Telegram channel linked to the Wagner private military group also issued a statement saying Prigozhin has been killed. The channel has previously carried Wagner propaganda videos, and Prigozhin's official press service has linked to it in the past. CNN is unable to confirm the assertion. Other channels associated with Prigozhin and Wagner, including his official Telegram channel, have remained silent.
- Numbers on plane engine debris seen at apparent crash site match plane registered to Prigozhin: Video of plane engine debris taken at the purported crash site in the Tver region northwest of Moscow matches a plane registered to Prigozhin. In the video, the last four digits of a registration number on the still-burning engine debris are seen: 2795. Prigozhin's plane is registered as RA-02795.
- At least 8 bodies found at plane crash site: Russian state media outlet Russia-24 has reported that eight bodies have been found at the plane crash site. Russian state media has also reported that 10 people were on board the aircraft.
- Biden suggests Putin may be behind the plane crash: US President Joe Biden suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been involved in the crash. "You may recall, I was asked about this," Biden told CNN’s Kevin Liptak Wednesday, alluding to comments he made in July in which he said Prigozhin should be worried about his safety following the failed mutiny. "I said I would be careful what I rode in. I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised," Biden said today.
- Russia launches criminal case following plane crash: The Russian Investigative Committee said it has initiated "a criminal case" following the crash of the Embraer Legacy aircraft. The committee said the case was based on Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which involves the violation of the rules of traffic safety and operation of air transport.
- Russian aviation authority to investigate crash: The Russian state aviation authority Rosaviation says that a specially created commission "has begun investigating the circumstances and causes of the accident with the Embraer-135 aircraft, which occurred on August 23 in the Tver region." The authority's statement said the plane belonged to MNT-Aero LLC, which specializes in business transportation.
- In Ukraine, more than 500 children have been killed since start of war: Some 541 children have been killed in Ukraine since the war began in February 2022, British charity Save the Children said in a report on Wednesday. June was the deadliest month for children so far, with 11 children killed and 43 more injured.
- Two teachers killed in Russian drone strike on Sumy region: Two teachers were killed and four people were injured when a Shahed drone hit a school in Romny, in the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine, local authorities said Wednesday. The attack — which destroyed the building — took place around 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), the Sumy region military administration said in a statement. The bodies of at least two more of the school employees are believed to be under the rubble, Ukrainian police said.
- Russia destroyed 13,000 tons of grain in attack on port: A Russian attack on the port of Izmail on the Danube River overnight destroyed 13,000 tons of grain meant for export, according to the Ukrainian Minister for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development Oleksandr Kubrakov. The grain was destined to go to Egypt and Romania, he said.
Newly analyzed flight-tracking data show the private jet purportedly carrying Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin experienced a “dramatic descent.”
Flight-tracking site FlightRadar24 says the Embraer Legacy 600 stopped transmitting position data at 6:11 p.m. local time, likely due to “interference/jamming in the area,” but the jet continued to transmit other data for another nine minutes.
FlightRadar24 says its data show the flight leveled off at 28,000 feet and made some slight altitude changes. The last minute of available data shows the plane making erratic climbs and descents, at one point climbing above 30,000 feet.
Then, at 6:19 p.m. local time, the data show the descent rate of the plane neared a blistering 8,000 feet per minute before the transmission of altitude data stopped.
“Even though the aircraft was not transmitting position information, other data like altitude, speed, vertical rate, and autopilot settings were broadcast,” says a FlightRadar24 blog post. “It is this data that provides some insight into the final moments of the flight.”