Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
Two months to the day after Yevgeny Prigozhin led elements of his Wagner Group mercenaries in an abortive mutiny against the reign of Vladimir Putin, an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet said to be owned by the Wagner Group and carrying its leader fell smoking out of the skies above the city of Tver, about 100 miles northwest of Moscow.
The photo above, which was posted this afternoon on a Russian channel of the Telegram social media site, is said to show the Embraer jet tumbling and smoking through the air. The jet is the tiny white dot to the lower right of this screen-capture from the video. Also shown is what appears to be a scrap of contrail on the left side of the photo that could have been left by an anti-aircraft missile.
Such weapons, fired from the ground, sometimes emit a burst of smoke from their engines just after the rocket burn cuts off. The rocket is then controlled by its guidance system to the target. The shape of the missile contrail, if that is in fact what it is, appears to show that the missile was fired from the ground close to the path of the Embraer jet passing overhead, suggesting that it could have been a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile stationed below the flight path that would have been filed with aircraft controllers before the jet took off from Moscow. Russian air controllers, like those in the United States and most other nations, work for the government.
This photo, captured about 25 seconds later in the video, appears to clearly show the jet’s fuselage with smoke coming out of the engine on the far side of the aircraft, indicating that the missile struck only one of the jet’s two engines. Smoke would be visible on the near side of the fuselage if both engines were on fire. This is an indication that the anti-aircraft missile was of the heat-seeking type designed to strike a single engine of an aircraft.
So, that completes the visual part of this speculative piece.
Everything else about the apparent death of Prigozhin is speculation, too, because, well…Russia. What’s not speculation is the brutal character of the other man in the story, Putin, whose dictatorial rule over his country has featured imprisonment and murders of other people who have pissed him off. See also: poisonings and sudden falls from high windows soon after perceived enemies lost favor with the Russian dictator.
That Prigozhin appears to have lasted some 60 days after his attempt at challenging Putin’s rule is unsurprising, according to experts on Russia interviewed on MSNBC today. Putin would have wanted to wait until he was able to pinpoint the depth and breadth of the threat to his rule and who was involved in the plot. He probably didn’t want to eliminate Prigozhin too soon after the mutiny so that he could attribute his passing to factors other than murder, like an airplane accident, perhaps.
The New York Times reported late this afternoon that the name of Dmitri Utkin, one of the Wagner Group’s top commanders, also appeared on the passenger manifest of the Embraer jet, according to the Russian aviation authority.
See how easy it would have been for Putin to arrange to bring down Prigozhin’s jet? Its flight plan was filed with air controllers working for the government. Its passenger list was recorded by the Russian aviation authority. The jet’s time of departure would have been recorded at the Moscow airport, making it possible to calculate the exact time when it would pass over the town between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Just like that, the commander of what was Russia’s most effective fighting force in its war against Ukraine is gone. Good news for Ukraine. Bad news for whatever any little Prigozhins are left behind. Especially bad news for anyone contemplating any sort of mutiny or coup against Vladimir Putin.
Once and for all, he has shown the world and his countrymen that in Russia, they don’t bother with departments of justice and special counsels and two-year investigations and grand juries and indictments. Putin just shoots coup plotters out of the sky.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com. We encourage our readers to get a subscription.