Russian propagandists have embarked on the mission of finding the culprit in the yet-to-be-confirmed deaths of Wagner PMC founders Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin the following day after Prigozhin’s private jet, an Embraer Legacy 600 crashed with the two of them on board. A host of versions have been voiced, placing responsibility on U.S. and French leaders, Russian opposition politicians, and, of course, Ukraine. Some are referring to an abstract foe – something along the lines of “if you know, you know”. No one has dropped Vladimir Putin's name yet.
Here's who may have had a hand in Prigozhin's death, according to Russian pro-war media:
French President Emmanuel Macron
Pro-war “military correspondent” Yuri Kotenok published a comment by “political scientist” Nikolai Sevostyanov, who names the French government as the main beneficiary of Prigozhin’s demise (to remind you, the plane crashed in Russia, not far from Moscow).
“Russia is highly unlikely to keep the African strongholds conquered by Wagner. ... Prigozhin was killed at the very moment when the French deep state faced a crisis in Niger, which is far more detrimental to Paris’ interests than losing CAR and Mali. For France, the uranium factor makes losing control of Niger comparable to losing Algeria.
Now, however, Paris can both overcome this predicament (Wagner's elimination makes the new government in Niamey way more accommodating) and make up for the ground lost in Bangui and Bamako. Contrary to a common misconception, French secret services mean business. All the more so considering their influence directly correlates with the soft power Paris has been engaging across the post-Soviet space, primarily in Russia, for years. Just look at the numerous representatives of the “elites” whose children, wives, or mistresses have French passports or villas on the French Riviera.
Prigozhin’s elimination is a worthy goal to engage this network. But it's much easier to mumble about ‘Putin avenging the mutiny’, even though burying Wagner means losing hard-won positions in Africa – the positions that became part of Putin's geopolitical success.”
Maria Pevchikh, investigative journalist, Chair of the Anti-Corruption Foundation
The name of Maria Pevchikh, a long-time ally of Alexei Navalny and lead investigator at the Anti-Corruption Foundation, was mentioned in Vladimir Solovyov's broadcast with Alexander Sosnovsky as a guest. On the subject of Prigozhin’s death, the latter suddenly said they had to pay close attention to Pevchikh’s words on the matter.
Then they moved on to discussing Pevchikh's lawsuit against Solovyov and her reluctance to return to Russia. Laughing, they exchanged not-so-subtle hints about what Sergei Karnaukhov, Solovyov's co-host would do to Pevchikh if she returned, and concluded that “she’ll be welcome at Lefortovo Prison”.
“Guess whom Solovyov Live names as the suspect in Prigozhin's murder? ‘Pevchikh will be welcome at Lefortovo Prison,’ they say. Just look at those clowns, both old enough to be my dad and still talking nonsense,” Maria Pevchikh commented on Twitter.
Ukrainian agents, the West, munitions in hand luggage
Most propagandists blame unnamed traitors and abstract enemies. The aforementioned Solovyov only makes vague assumptions, letting his co-host Sergei Karnaukhov do the heavy lifting. Karnaukhov broadcasts innumerable quotes hinting at Putin's complicity in the air crash and brands their authors as traitors and Ukrainian spies. In the meantime, as journalist Maria Borzunova remarks, he keeps throwing in his own versions of what happened. His list of probable culprits includes:
- Ukraine, which celebrated Independence Day on August 24. The murder was timed to coincide with the holiday.
- The West, which seeks to destabilize Russia again.
- A random detonation of munitions on board, possibly in the passengers’ personal belongings, because “they’re with the military after all”.
- International sanctions, which caused Embraer to withdraw from Russia and stop servicing its planes. The crash may have been caused by malfunctioning equipment.
Karnaukhov also believes that an unknown entity wants to leverage the accident to harm Russia and Putin – the way it happened with Navalny's poisoning.
Margarita Simonyan, head of RT, went for a mysterious tone instead of spurting out version after version. “One of the versions includes staging. But personally, I'm leaning toward a more obvious one.”
“Banderovites”, the U.S., Putin's enemies in the halls of power
Tsargrad, a publication of “Russian Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeev, offers versions galore. A story titled Prigozhin Killed by Traitors: Who was the Archenemy of Wanger PMC Chief? claims that the obvious answer to the question is, of course, the U.S. The author justifies his version similarly to Sevostyanov, who blames France: pushback against Russia’s strengthening in Africa. “Besides, this is why the murder coincided with the BRICS summit,” author Andrei Revnivtsev suddenly adds.
Prigozhin's murder also plays into the hands of Putin's enemies in the halls of power, who want to denigrate the president and make it look like he did it, argues Revnivtsev.
“They realize that launching a figurative missile greatly undermines confidence in the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. It’s also pushing society toward chaos and controversy, giving way to doubts and despondency,” concludes the author.
Revnivtsev also comments on the version that places responsibility on Russian authorities. He believes they simply lack the motive. After all, Russian authorities are reasonable – nothing like Latin American drug cartels, he resumes.
“This version raises a bunch of questions. Firstly, to what end? After June, Prigozhin has been deprived of the opportunity to pull off another reckless debacle and endanger the system. Besides, his work in Africa kept him extremely busy. Secondly, exacting personal revenge by blowing up a plane above Russia is something I would expect of a Latin American drug cartel, not Russian secret services. Thirdly, why blow up a plane over Russia? Couldn’t there be a less conspicuous way? Is there suddenly a shortage of crocodiles, malaria mosquitoes, and thugs with SAM weapons in Africa? ...
So Prigozhin's mutiny was never over. But traitors decided to play big and used Wagner's chief in their own game – against Putin.”
“The gangster 1990s”
Incarcerated ex-“DPR” leader Igor Strelkov (Girkin) also commented on the incident through his lawyer. He voices the main versions, dismissing them as “hardly credible” and “negligible”. According to Strelkov, there is no clarity regarding the culprit at this point, but “the gangster 1990s are back”.
“I believe the possibility of the president’s involvement is negligible, around the same as a man-made accident. A terror attack perpetrated by Ukraine or the West is even less likely. This could be a ‘key witness elimination’ effort, which the media have never mentioned. Another version that's possible but hardly likely is personal revenge from the top brass. I can't say I’m grieving because Prigozhin wasn't just my personal enemy; to a large extent, he was the enemy of Russia. And he was still very dangerous.
That said, I don't have any positive feelings about the event because it evidences Russia’s further immersion in chaos. Instead of killing Prigozhin, they should have put him on trial. Now he can't testify anymore. The gangster 1990s are back, with a lot of risks and ramifications.”
Russian MP Sergei Mironov may have authored the most memorable quote.
“Yevgeny Prigozhin got in the way of too many people. The number of his enemies reached a critical point. Prigozhin's death had been planned by specific bastards. Your gift, Zhenya, the one lowly flunkeys love to ridicule, will always remind me that the job isn't finished and that we must keep fighting!”
The identities of said “specific bastards” remain unknown. The gift Mironov refers to was a sledgehammer with an inscription: “To Mironov from Wagner PMC. Bakhmut - Soledar”, a photo of which he posted earlier. Wagner mercenaries had the infamous practice of taking a sledgehammer to the heads of “traitors” among them.