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Message Russian air defense, “evil Bandera” or a bomb on a plane: what propagandists wrote about the likely death of the leader of the Wagner group Pryhozhyn

His people killed him, he was killed by enemies, he decided to take a break - those are a few versions of the event thrown by propagandists in order to confuse the audience.

Oleksandr Kotenko

On August 23, 2023, an Embraer business jet owned by Yevhenii Pryhozhyn crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino, Bolohivskyi district, Tver region. Later, the Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsia published a list of passengers, according to which there were 10 passengers on board, including Yevhenii Pryhozhyn and co-founder of the group Dmytro Utkin. On the morning of August 24, the body of Pryhozhyn among the dead had not yet been identified.

Yevhenii Pryhozhyn is a Russian war criminal, oligarch, founder of the Wagner terrorist organization within the Russian army, recognized by the Ukrainian parliament as an international criminal organization. In the past, a restaurateur, which is why he began to be called “Putin's chef”. The Kremlin provided financial and military support to the Wagner group when the mercenaries performed tasks in Sudan, Libiia, the Central African Republic and participated in Syria and the Donbas, as well as in a full-scale war in Ukraine.

On June 23, 2023, Yevhenii Pryhozhyn reported that the troops of the Russian Ministry of Defense had hit the place of deployment of the Wagner group, as a result of which many mercenaries were killed. He announced the “march of justice”, said that there were 25 thousand Wagner groups, and they were going to “sort things out”, and everyone could join the “march of justice”.

This was the beginning of the Wagner mutiny - an internal conflict in Russia between the Ministry of Defense and the regular Russian army and Wagner led by Yevhenii Pryhozhyn. During this conflict, the Wagner group killed more than 13 pilots of the Russian Aerospace Forces. On June 24, negotiations took place between the self-proclaimed President of Belarus Oleksandr Lukashenko and Yevhenii Pryhozhyn, the rebellion itself was stopped, the criminal case for “armed rebellion” was closed, and the Wagner group and Pryhozhyn himself left for Belarus, and then to Africa.

Russian propagandists, authors of anonymous telegram channels and pro-Kremlin media responded to the death of Wagner group leader Yevhenii Pryhozhyn with a number of messages. We have highlighted some of them.

Pryhozhyn’s plane was blown up, there was a technical breakdown or he was shot down by Russian air defense

After the crash of the plane, on board of which Yevhenii Pryhozhyn was probably on board, the pro-Kremlin media put forward the version that Pryhozhyn’s plane was blown up from the inside - allegedly someone planted a bomb. Also technical breakdown is not excluded. However, the Wagner group telegram channels promoted the thesis that the plane was shot down by the Russian air defense system, and the locals allegedly heard two loud explosions. Also, anonymous telegram channels published a video with a characteristic trail in the sky.

The variety of versions shows that there was no unequivocal attitude towards Yevhenii Pryhozhyn in society. Those who did not sympathize with him tend to believe in a “technical error” or “explosion from the inside” due to the supposedly planted bomb. Prior to the mutiny, official Russian propaganda portrayed him as a tenacious and efficient military leader who had military accomplishments in Ukraine and earlier in Africa. After the rebellion, he was portrayed as a traitor, a thug, and a dangerous criminal element. Despite the change in the official version, some military correspondents and bloggers continued to consider him a hero, so the version of a technical error is unpopular in their media environment.

Pryhozhyn was killed by Ukraine, it was a terrorist attack on Independence Day

“It’s definitely Ukraine that killed Pryhozhyn. For Putin, Yevhenii Pryhozhyn is no longer a problem. For Shoihu, Pryhozhyn is no longer a problem. Big bosses do not take revenge, because they have a lot of real problems and real enemies. This is a terrorist act of Ukraine on Independence Day”, Russian propagandists wrote.

The American Institute for the Study of War reported on its website that “Putin almost certainly ordered the Russian military command to shoot down Pryhozhyn’s plane”. Analysts believe that this is how Putin could have taken revenge on Pryhozhyn for the attempted mutiny that occurred at the end of June 2023.

By blaming Ukraine for the murder of Yevhenii Pryhozhyn, Russian propaganda is trying to shift its internal political problem outward, to shift the responsibility to another country. Like, Ukraine interferes in the internal affairs of Russia.

In Russia, Pryhozhyn was not given a promise that they would not be killed

Russian propagandists write: “It was necessary to sit in Africa or Belarus, where Lukashenko gave his security guarantees. Nobody in Russia promised him anything. Or rather, they promised to open all criminal cases and they did”.

This thesis allegedly removes responsibility for the death of the main “Wagner” from Russia. They say that Yevhenii Pryhozhyn himself is to blame for his death, because no one provided him with security guarantees in Russia - they were voiced by the self-proclaimed President of Belarus Lukashenko. In one of his interviews, Putin noted that he could forgive everything except betrayal. He adhered to his principles and punished treason. So, Putin in this situation is depicted as a “man of his word”.

Yevhenii Pryhozhyn did not die, but staged his own death 

The opinion that Yevhenii Pryhozhyn could have staged his own death was expressed both by pro-Kremlin political scientists and propagandists, and by so-called liberal journalists and experts in exile. “But in order to hide forever, taking one of the many spare passports, a burned-out plane is also a good excuse”, they wrote on social networks. 

Allegedly, the leader of “Wagner” was tired in the “service” and decided to leave everything and rest. However, this version is conspiracy theory and resembles a conspiracy theory, according to which Hitler did not commit suicide on April 30, 1945, but fled to Argentina and lived until the end of the twentieth century. Such mythologization only adds mysticism to the figure of Pryhozhyn, which in the eyes of fans makes him an even greater hero. 

Putin killed Pryhozhyn 

“Yevhenii Pryhozhyn, despite being an outspoken enemy of Ukraine in this war, stood out qualitatively against the backdrop of the lazy, stupid top of the Russian Federation”, write anonymous telegram channels broadcasting pro-Kremlin rhetoric. But they add, speaking of the death of Pryhozhyn: “Today Putin could not cut his teeth, openly, or rudely, or like a man, but simply using resources that did not belong to him”. 

This opinion is shared by the “Wagner”, but they do not say directly who exactly they mean when talking about the death of Pryhozhyn. In the “Wagner” telegram channels they write: “He died as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia. But even in hell he will be the best! A similar thesis is promoted by another Russian propagandist, hinting that Russia did not react properly to the death of two important military figures. In his telegram channel, he wrote: “We shot down a plane with two of those who have the stars of the Hero of Russia - and wait for official information, don’t be nervous”.  

According to this version, Putin could have eliminated Yevhenii Pryhozhyn because of the Wagner rebellion that began on the evening of June 23, 2023. The death of Yevhenii Pryhozhyn may be the beginning of the end of this structure as an independent organization. 

One of the Russian propagandists wrote about this in his telegram channel: “Putin cowardly destroyed not the Wagner group, but a brand that had been created for decades, terrified and was known all over the world”. 

Consequently, Putin is shown as a cunning politician with no honor, a man who does not keep his word, and his style of reprisal against political opponents - “kill in the toilet” - is unchanged. Having eliminated the war criminal Yevhenii Pryhozhyn in broad daylight, having done it defiantly, the Russian dictator also seeks to intimidate political rivals and the Russian elite. They say that everyone who goes against Putin will have a fate like that of Yevhenii Pryhozhyn. 

Yevhenii Pryhozhyn was killed by the intelligence services of other countries 

“Both the CIA and the Mi-6, and the French DGSE and the GUR could well pull off such a thing. The public assassination of one of the most media and influential public figures is a huge blow to the Russian collective unconscious”, wrote anonymous pro-Kremlin telegram channels. 

This version was put forward by Russian propagandists in order to discredit the West and divert attention from other versions and likely killers. Here Russian propaganda applied the tactic of reflection. The leader of the criminal organization is heroized by some propagandists and “Wagner”, romanticizing his “achievements”. 

A cult of personality was created from Pryhozhyn in Russia, but he is a criminal, and Putin saw him as a competitor who, by his actions, raises the vertical of power and violates the state's monopoly on violence.

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