Wagner ‘decapitated’ as co-founder ‘killed alongside Prigozhin’ in plane crash
Russia: Footage allegedly shows crash site of jet carrying Prigozhin
The alleged co-founder of Wagner Group and close ally of Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the small plane that crashed in Russia, it has been claimed.
Unverified reports circulating on Telegram have claimed former Russian intelligence officer Dmitry Utkin was one of the 10 passengers aboard the Embraer Legacy 600 that exploded in a ball of fire on Wednesday afternoon.
Among those reporting that Mr Utkin and Mr Prigozhin were together on the aircraft are Telegram channels VChK-OGPU and rosZMI as well as Ukraine-backing Twitter user and commentator Igor Sushko.
VChK-OGPU commented on the alleged deaths of both Mr Utkin and Mr Prigozhin saying: “Wagner has been decapitated.”
Mr Utkin has been an elusive figure over the past few years, as he isn’t known to have made a public appearance since 2016.
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He served as a special forces officer in the GRU – Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency – where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.
The army officer is said to have named the mercenary troops after the call-sign he was using at the time, in late 2013.
A few months later, in February 2014, Mr Utkin and members of the newly-created paramilitary group were seen in Crimea and Donbas, where they fought alongside pro-Russian separatists.
In December 2016, he was photographed with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he attended an event as a laureate of four Orders of Courage – a state decoration created to award valour, bravery and selfless acts of courage.
His involvement with the Wagner Group brought upon Mr Utkin a number of sanctions.
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While the US launched sanctions against the former GRU agent in June 2017, the Council of the European Union issued restrictive measures against him and other people associated with Wagner in December 2021.
The European sanctions included travel bans and asset freezes, and described Mr Utkin as “responsible for coordinating and planning operations for the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries in Ukraine”.
In the wake of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, the governments of New Zealand and the UK also issued sanctions against Mr Utkin.
Mr Utkin was reportedly aboard a plane with Mr Prigozhin and eight other people, including three crewmembers.
A statement by Moscow officials shared on Wednesday evening claimed the plane was “downed”.
It read: “According to the report of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, in the Tver region, close to the village of Kuzhenkino, an Embraer Legacy private jet flying between Moscow and St Petersburg was downed.
“There were 10 people on board, including three crew members. According to preliminary information, all those on board were killed.”
Russia’s aviation regulator, Rosaviatsii, issued a statement confirming an investigation into the crash has been launched and that Mr Prigozhin’s name appears among the list of passengers.
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