Analysis & Opinions - The Cipher Brief

Could Prigozhin’s Death be a Step Toward Sudden and Catastrophic Collapse for Putin?

| Aug. 27, 2023

Who can be surprised that Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin met his timely end? Many have cited variations of the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that if you try to kill the king, you better not miss. Another saying that comes to mind is that revenge is a dish best served cold. Or in this case, lukewarm. It is possible that Russia’s version of an overworked and entirely ineffectual National Transportation Safety Board will conclude that the crash of Prigozhin’s plane was the result of poor maintenance, or that a corrupt ground crew watered the gasoline, or the pilot was drunk, or that western sanctions prevented updates to critical ground avoidance software.

Alternatively, Russia may claim that Prigozhin’s plane crash was caused by Ukrainian special services who infiltrated Russia, identified the plane and flight schedule, and surreptitiously planted explosives into long expired food tins intended to be served as a last grey and slightly rancid meal for Prigozhin and his hapless fellow travelers.

Or perhaps Prigozhin’s plane collided with one of the Moscow bound attack drones which have been flooding Russian airspace of late, or accidently got in the way of a Buk missile intended for a passenger airliner transiting Russian airspace. Alternatively, the FSB may have slathered a thick smear of novichok in the pilot’s flight skivvies. Regardless of cause, the real reason for Prigozhin’s demise is that two months after his road trip of betrayal with friends and followers from Bakhmut to Rostov, he had lived just long enough for Putin to identify, interrogate, and isolate his supporters and co-conspirators. 

Perhaps the previous day’s dismissal of Prigozhin’s confederate, Aerospace Forces Commander General Sergey Surovikin, is a coincidence, one of those funny accidents of timing. Coincidences happen often in Russia, particularly when it involves tragic early deaths of suddenly superfluous erstwhile Putin acolytes. In this case, is it surely a coincidence that Prigozhin and his entourage died in an airplane crash after having imposed the same fate on 12 Russian aviators who died trying to stop Prigozhin’s armored joy ride.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kolbe, Paul.“Could Prigozhin’s Death be a Step Toward Sudden and Catastrophic Collapse for Putin?.” The Cipher Brief, August 27, 2023.