Yevgeny Prigozhin, it seems, is dead. This afternoon, his Embraer jet, with ten passengers on board, fell vertically from the sky after witnesses reported hearing two explosions. With uncharacteristic swiftness for the Russian state bureaucracy, the Kremlin’s aviation agency announced that Prigozhin was listed on the flight manifest within the hour. Three hours later, as responders sorted through the burning, body-strewn debris just north of Moscow, Telegram channels associated with Prigozhin’s private military company confirmed his death. Exactly two months after the Wagner leader announced his “March of Fairness” on Moscow, in what was broadly interpreted as an attempted coup, Prigozhin finally met his end.
His death was inevitable. At the Aspen Security Forum in July, C.I.A. Director Bill Burns, a former ambassador to Russia, was asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: Why, after marching on the capital and challenging the czar, was Prigozhin still alive? Why, unlike General Surovikin, rumored to be imprisoned since the mutiny, was Prigozhin still a free man? Burns responded that we’d get the answer soon enough. “Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback,” he said, “so if I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food-taster.”
And yet, it wasn’t the food or a window or even a bullet. Instead, Prigozhin was shot out of the sky, a spectacular touch by a man who clearly wanted to leave no doubt as to what had just happened and why.