Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was presumed dead on Wednesday after a plane crash north of Moscow, which left no survivors.
The notorious mercenary leader led an abortive mutiny against the Russian military earlier this year, with speculation and suspicion currently rife over what has happened.
Neither the Kremlin nor Russian Ministry of Defence has commented on Prigozhin’s death.
Russian authorities said all ten people on board the plane – including seven passengers and three crew members – were killed.
Prigozhin’s right-hand man and Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin was believed to be among those who died.
The private jet crashed en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, some 100 kilometres north of the Russian capital.
Flight tracking data showed the plane taking off from Moscow on Wednesday evening and its transponder signal disappearing minutes later. It crashed in a rural region with no nearby airfields where the jet could have landed safely.
Prigozhin was reportedly in Africa on Monday but then he returned on Wednesday to Russia. It’s worth mentioning that when Wagner revolted against the Krelin weeks ago, photos of Prigozhin showed that he had visited Libya’s eastern region and posed next to his ally Khalifa Haftar’s General Command headquarters.
Haftar enlisted the help of Wagner’s soldiers of fortune in 2019 when wanted to seize power from Tripoli’s UN-recognized government in an offensive that ended up as a failure but saw Wagner mercenaries remain in different locations inside Libya, especially those close to Jufra airbase and oil facilities.
One day before the apparent death of Prigozhin, the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense – Yunus-bek Yevkurov – arrived in Libya’s Benghazi after receiving an invite from pro-Kremlin Haftar.
Moscow’s Defense Ministry said that this was the first official visit of a Russian military delegation to Libya, and it was organized after talks with Libya at the Army-2023 expo and Moscow Conference on International Security earlier this month.
“During the visit, it is planned to discuss prospects for cooperation in combating international terrorism and other issues of joint action,” the Ministry added, but observers believed that Yevkurov was there on a mission to talk to Wagner elements – and now after their chief’s death – things had unfolded.