Prigozhin Plane Crash: What It Might Mean for You

August 31, 2023


The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin and nine others in a private plane crash has led to a renewed discussion of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to use far-reaching, lethal tactics against perceived enemies. Though there are no confirmed reports on the cause of the fatal incident, U.S. officials indicated an onboard explosive possibly downed the aircraft on orders from Putin. The crash occurred two months to the day after Prigozhin launched a brief rebellion that posed an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority before it was suddenly called off in a deal that required the Wagner chief and his fighters to relocate to Belarus. 

Putin’s demonstrated history of violence against political rivals and perceived enemies spans more than 20 years. Experts emphasize the enigmatic circumstances of these incidents, often involving poisonings and shootings. 

  • According to Concentric’s President, Jeff Baker, who has deep experience in Russian-related matters, “Despite brokering a deal with Putin to halt his advance on Moscow, Prigozhin’s decision to command Wagner forces to stand up to the Russian military sealed his fate. Given Putin’s leadership style, which thrives on projecting strength and instilling fear, any perception of leniency towards Prigozhin’s defiance would have been seen as a sign of weakness, potentially emboldening internal adversaries. Once Putin consolidated power and rooted out less than fully loyal members of the military, Prighozin’s demise was inevitable.”

Far-Reaching Interests 

From its assertive foreign policy to its energy dominance and regional influence, Russia’s pursuits on the global stage provide a multitude of avenues for individuals and organizations to stoke Putin’s ire. Through political machinations and the force of his mercenary army, the Wagner Group, Prighozin played a pivotal role in expanding Russian influence. The death of Prigozhin calls into question the future of Moscow’s operations in a number of locations and Putin’s tactics to maintain influence on the world stage:  

  • Africa: Russia has expanded its influence in Africa, in part due to Prighozin’s involvement in the region, with Putin stating he “will always consider cooperation with African states a priority.” These engagements extend from deepening ties in North Africa, expanding its reach in the Central African Republic and the Sahel, and rekindling Cold War ties in southern Africa. Prighozin’s death raised numerous questions regarding the Wagner Group’s involvement in African civil wars, such as in Equatorial Guinea, Libya, and Chad. Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Initiative on Non-state Armed Actors at the Brookings Institution, theorizes little will change regarding Russia’s ongoing attempts to gain influence in the region and Prigozhin is likely to be replaced by a leader who will not be a challenge to Putin’s leadership. 
  • Ukraine: Prigozhin used the Wagner Group to bolster Russia’s depleted forces in the region, specifically in the deadly battle in Bakhmut, which is a symbol of strategic importance for Putin. Paul Sonne, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, focusing on Russia and Ukraine, assesses the heavy toll of taking Bakhmut led to the mercenary leader’s bitter attitude towards Putin and subsequently his attempted coup. 
  • Disinformation in the West: Several months before his death, Prighozin revealed he was the founder of the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based organization responsible for conducting information warfare in the West. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him for running a disinformation campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to CNN, a Russian network of internet trolls has spread messages online blaming “enemies from the West” for Prighozin’s death. Ongoing disinformation has the potential to fuel anti-Western conspiracy theories, which may increase the risk of negative rhetoric, hacking attempts, and in more extreme cases, in-person attacks against Western companies. 

Map: Wagner Group Activity in Recent Years

Wagner Group activity

The map above displays the locations of Prighozin’s Wagner Group. 

Source: Al Jazeera 

Risks to Stakeholders 

For high net-worth individuals and prominent organizations who operate in these theaters, Putin’s demonstrated willingness to target rivals for political and personal gain places them at risk of retaliation. The Russian president has shown he is willing to target enemies through a variety of means, such as cyber attacks, espionage, and disinformation campaigns. With Concentric’s help, potential targets can identify, address, and mitigate risks presented by Russian influence.

  • Intelligence ServicesOur Global Intelligence team can author periodic updates and risk assessments. Our analysts assess mentions across open source and deep and dark web forums to identify and provide recommendations for threat trends so you can expect the unexpected. 
  • Cyber ProtectionConcentric’s Cybersecurity team provides assessments and recommendations to safeguard your personal and private networks to mitigate cyber threats. Eclipse by Concentric also removes unwanted personal identifiable information from tracking websites which can be used to target high net-worth individuals, their family, and their staff. 
  • Security Operations. Concentric’s Security Operations services provide numerous methods to manage the ongoing threats presented by foreign intelligence actors who may target high-profile events and industry leaders. Foreign actors utilize a multitude of in-person intelligence collection techniques, such as elicitation of information from attendees; photography of the venue, attendees, or information; and electronic surveillance. 

Private Jets Crashes are Rare, Russian Airspace is Tightly Controlled

The combination of the scarcity of attacks on private jets, along with tight Russian airspace controls, further casts doubt on the nature of the downing of Prighozin’s private jet. Though there are several notable instances of private planes crashing due to sabotage or attacks, private plane crashes are unusual and attacks on these planes are rare. Further, European and U.S. airlines are banned from Russian airspace, leaving only Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian airlines free to fly over the nation.

  • Private jets have a higher accident rate than commercial airlines, but fatal crashes have declined over the last two decades. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the total number of private flying accidents has dropped by up to a quarter since 2002. This is partly due to increased safety measures and technological advancements that help reduce crashes due to human error. 
  • Russia closed large sections of its airspace near their flight information region (FIR) boundaries with Ukraine. The U.S., Canada, and Italy also banned their operators from this location, and France and Germany also issued warnings for this airspace. Private jets flying out of Russia registered a 25 percent decrease in the number of departures only days after the closures. The primary risk is an unintended targeting of civil aircraft by military forces on either side, which can occur purposefully or due to misidentification.

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