Former MI6 spy chief says all signs suggest Wagner boss Prigozhin was ‘taken out’ by Putin

Second former intelligence officer suggested a bomb in a ‘wine crate’ may have downed the jet

Alexander Butler
Thursday 24 August 2023 12:07 BST
Prigozhin says Wagner Group make ‘Russia greater’ in last video before plane crash

A former MI6 spy chief has said “all indications” suggest Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was “taken out” by Vladimir Putin, two months after staging a mutiny that dented the Russian president’s authority.

Russia's civil aviation agency said that Mr Prigozhin, leader of the private mercenary group, and six top lieutenants were among 10 killed when a jet crashed soon after taking off from Moscow on Wednesday.

Mr Prigozhin’s supporters claimed on pro-Wagner messaging channels that the plane was deliberately downed. Numerous opponents and critics of Mr Putin have been killed or gravely sickened in apparent assassination attempts.

The Wagner group chief had mounted a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in June and marched on Moscow with his mercenary fighters, with Mr Putin denouncing the rebellion as “treason” and vowing to punish those behind it.

Sir John Sawers, head of the MI6 between 2009 and 2014, said on Thursday that all signs suggest the Russian president had “taken him out”, making it clear to Russians he was not going to “brook any challenge”.

Former intelligence officer Christopher Steele also claimed it was an “inside job” and suggested a bomb inside a “wine crate” could have caused the explosion.

Prigozhin seen laughing about death in video released by Wagner-linked channel

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Sir John said: “All the indications point to the fact Putin has taken him out. He has reasserted his control.

“He’s making clear to everyone inside and outside of Russia that he’s not going to brook any challenge. If there’s a slim chance that he’s not dead and he wasn’t on that plane, he will be soon.”

The plane carrying three pilots and seven passengers was travelling from Moscow to St Petersburg, according to officials cited by Russia’s state news agency Tass. Footage shows the flaming wreckage after a private jet came down.

Sir John explained the MI6 “wouldn’t have any extra information’ on Prigozhin’s death yet, but said it was likely there would have been “some device” on board that took the jet down.

He said: “If there had been some air defence missile that took him out then there would be traces of that which would be detectable through satellite means. But I would have thought there would have been some device on board that brought the plane down suddenly and killed all those on board.

“Of course, those on board were not only Prigozhin but those around him like his military commander Dmitry Utkin, some other long-standing aides, so it’s a way of taking out the entire Wagner leadership all in one go.”

Prigozhin launched a coup against Putin in June

Meanwhile, Mr Steele, who was with the Secret Intelligence Service and ran the MI6 Russia desk, claimed a bomb inside a “wine crate” could have caused the explosion. He added that the crash looked like part of a “pattern of state-backed activity” by FSB or GRU forces.

He told Sky News: “I think it is unlikely that Wagner commanders were actually behind this ultimately. I would suspect very much that it was an FSB or GRU operation.

“Certainly it’s an inside job, the suggestion is that it’s a bomb in a wine crate. That’s a kind of ironic end for Putin’s former caterer.”

He added: “[The crash] followed the day after General (Sergei) Surovikin, who you will remember was the commander first of all in Syria and later in Ukraine, was sacked from his job which was to be in charge of the security over the Russian homeland.

“He was seen as somebody that was one of the generals who was supporting Prigozhin and was an ally of his. For him to have been removed a day before does rather suggest a pattern of state-backed activity here.”

So far, the Kremlin has not commented on the crash. Mr Putin did not mention the incident during a speech in Moscow to mark the 80th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Kursk during the Second World War.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in