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Why a Russia expert thinks Putin may be behind the plane crash
01:30 - Fuente:cnn
AndYevgeny PrigozhinThe last chapter of In fact is already written, he lived as he apparently died: violently, extravagantly and at the center of intrigue.
The facts are just beginning to become clear. On Wednesday afternoon, an Embraer Legacy commercial jet was registered in the name of mercenary boss Wagner.fell from the sky, crashed between the villages of Kuzhenkino and Kuzhenkinskoe in the Tver region of Russia. All 10 people on board died.
The State Aviation Service of Russia reportedPrigozhin was on board.
But it didn't take long for the theories to start circulating on the internet. Was the plane shot down? Or had a bomb been planted on the ship? And was Prigozhin really dead? Russian propagandist-in-chief Vladimir Solovyov seemed to imply as much, implying in a statement on Telegram that reports of the oligarch's death were premature.
The Ukrainians and their allies, Solovyov implied, were "spreading a false message about Yevgeny Prigozhin's death," based on a report by Rossiya-24, a Russian state television channel.
Solovyov, known to play fast and loose with events, quickly backed down. But the circumstances of the accident, as well as Prigozhin's open confrontation with the Kremlin in June, seemed straight out of the pages of a second-rate thriller.
After all, in the following days aThe march to Moscow was cancelledfrom his troops, Russian state television revealed Prigozhin's preference for wigs,suits and multiple passports, all found in one of his gangster-style residences.
And it wouldn't be entirely out of character for Prigozhin – who ran the infamous "troll farms" involved in meddling in the 2016 presidential election – to troll the world by staging his own death. Despite all these,Russian investigative mediareported that Wagner's head apparently used at least one body double.
Tragic stuff, of course, but perhaps no crazier than Prigozhin's own interpretations. After all, this was the man who advocated the need for better resources for his fighters in Ukraine.posting scary photosof their tangled bodies. And his profanity-laden rants against Russia's top military commanders, whoaccused them of being "fat cats", cemented his reputation as something of a villain outside of the core casting.
But such speculation misses the main point. Prigozhin is, for all intents and purposes, no longer a force in Russian politics. Bhatia – the paternal nickname used by some of his men – has left the building.
Who is motivated?
The Investigative Committee, Russia's main law enforcement body, has launched a criminal investigation into the accident. The investigation is being conducted in accordance with Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation - violation of the rules of road safety and operation of air transport.
The Commission of Inquiry's examination of the matter is not a promising development, at least in terms of transparency in international aviation. After all, the law enforcement agency has been at the center of efforts to prosecute opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Expecting an impartial report from the Investigative Committee is like expecting a Russian state TV host to stop taking talking points from the Kremlin.
Whether we know the true cause of the accident or not, the ongoing investigation points to an important question: who would have had the motivation and means to get rid of Prigozhin and his top lieutenants?
The easy – but by no means the only – answer is, for many observers, Putin.
Prigozhin's plane crash came just two months after Prigozhin and Wagner staged their rebellion, the biggest challenge to Putin's rule in more than two decades.
Days after the uprising, an enraged Putin made it clear that he viewed Wagner's actions as a form of betrayal. Although he did not mention Prigozhin by name, he accused "the organizers of the uprising" of betraying Russia itself.
This is a serious accusation, but in the weeks following Wagner's rebellion there was no swift retaliation from the Kremlin.
Wagner's fighters were allowed to move to neighboring Belarus under a deal reportedly brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. And Prigozhin – although keeping a low profile – continued to appear in public,thanking an African officialon the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg and making remarks about the coup in Niger.
But Prigozhin, for all his boasting, could remember that revenge is a dish best served at least hot, no matter how many enemies he had.
If (and this is still a big if) the Russian state had something to do with the Embraer crash, it may add to the sense that Russia is entering a Смутное время (Time of Troubles), as some commentators darkly suggested during the during Wagner's speech. . agitation. In Russia, this phrase refers to a period of lawlessness and a violent succession crisis in the early 17th century.
If anything, the crisis evokes unpleasant memories of the lawless 1990s, when Russians suffered a failed and violent transition to a market economy and political assassinations made headlines routinely.
Under Putin, defense has become something of a sick joke for the regime's tendency.opponents to fall from the windows. Could this be a defense by other means?
Mysterious plane crashes have also been a pattern in some high-profile cases in Russian politics.
Russian investigative journalist Artem Borovik died in 2000.shortly after his planein Kiev crashed after taking off from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. And General Alexander Lebed – former presidential candidate and regional governor –He died in 2002 in a helicopter crash., removing a prominent political candidate from the picture.
So his questionsuper– who will benefit from the death of his boss Wagner – will probably be on the minds of political observers as well.
In a perceptive analysis after Wagner's failed coup, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution noted that it might be useful for the Kremlin to effectively restructure some of Prigozhin's operations - or put them under new management.
"Rather than completely purge Wagner in Africa and the Middle East, Russian intelligence will purge Wagner's structures to weaken relations with Prigozhin and strengthen ties to the Kremlin."she wrote.
"Such a restructuring would mimic Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent preference for Wagner in Russia and Ukraine: put some cadres under the command of the Russian military, disarm others, and allow others to continue operating with the existing semi -independent form, but new leadership and with Prigozhin's power minimized."
To paraphrase, from the Kremlin's perspective: if Prigozhin is dead, long live the new Prigozhins.