Russian mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was on board the plane that crashed north of Moscow, killing everyone on board, according to Russia’s civil aviation agency. “I’m not surprised,” Biden told reporters. He clarified, however, that he did not know exactly what was behind the jet crash. “There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Russia’s federal air transport agency Rosaviatsia published the names of seven passengers — including Prigozhin and Wagner group commander Dmitry Utkin — and three crew members it said died in Wednesday’s jet crash.
“There were 10 people on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, all those on board died,” Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations said shortly before.
At about 17:00 GMT, the ministry announced that a “private Embraer Legacy aircraft travelling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, the jet crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region”, some 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of the capital.
Officials have since said the ministry conducted search operations and recovered the remains of those aboard.
Video has also emerged, allegedly showing the Embraer jet plummeting from the sky. Authorities are investigating what could have caused the crash, with theories ranging from technical problems to explosions onboard the jet crash.
In the more than 20 years that the jet model has been in service, the news outlet Reuters said that only one previous crash has been recorded, attributed to mistakes by crew members.
Daniel Hawkins, a journalist in Moscow, told Al Jazeera that “reports in the Russian media, unconfirmed so far, are saying this aircraft could have been taken down by air defence systems”. “Prigozhin was among those on board or was at least listed as among those people on board.
The crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin led a short-lived armed rebellion against Russia’s military leadership on June 23.
The incident was seen as the gravest challenge ever to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade grip on power.
The rebellion sparked after Prigozhin jet crash claimed the Russian military had launched missiles against Wagner mercenary fighters deployed on Russia’s behalf in Ukraine.
Calling the Russian military leadership corrupt and incompetent, Prigozhin proceeded to lead his fighters across the border into Russia, where they occupied the city of Rostov-on-Don.
He then sent military columns marching towards Moscow, in an apparent attempt to remove Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu from power. Prigozhin had complained for months of inadequate munitions and supplies for his fighters serving on the front lines of Putin’s war in Ukraine.
But shortly before his troops reached Moscow, Prigozhin ordered a retreat after negotiations with the Kremlin, in which Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko acted as mediator. As part of the deal reached to escape prosecution, Prigozhin and his Wagner fighters were offered sanctuary in Belarus.
Rumours have swirled about possible retribution against Prigozhin since the rebellion, and on Wednesday, United States President Joe Biden expressed little shock upon hearing about jet crash and his apparent demise.