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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Yevgeny Prigozhin smiled as a crowd of adoring followers surrounded his black SUV on June 24 in Russia’s southern metropolis of Rostov-on-Don and cheered him on.

“You rock!” followers shouted whereas taking selfies with the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, who was sitting within the automobile after dusk. “You’re a lion! Grasp in there!”

Prigozhin and his masked, camouflage-clad fighters had been leaving the town after a daylong mutiny against the country’s military leadership. President Vladimir Putin decried it as “treason” and vowed punishment, however then lower a deal to not prosecute Prigozhin. Past that, his destiny appeared unsure.

Two months later, on Aug. 23, Prigozhin’s enterprise jet plummeted from the sky and crashed in a discipline midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Everybody aboard was killed, presumably together with Prigozhin and a few of his high lieutenants.

The 2 scenes, which unfolded simply two months aside, present bookends to the mystery-shrouded last days of the outspoken, brutal mercenary chief who initially appeared to have escaped any retribution for the rebellion that posed the greatest challenge to Putin’s authority in his 23-year rule.

Suspicions immediately arose that the Kremlin was behind the crash and that it was vengeance. The Kremlin denied it.

In on-camera remarks eulogizing Prigozhin, the Russian president sought to indicate that there was no unhealthy blood between them. He described the top of Wagner as “a proficient man” whom he had identified for a very long time and who made “critical errors” however was nonetheless apparently doing enterprise with the federal government.

The final weeks of Prigozhin’s life had been overshadowed by questions on what the Kremlin actually had in retailer for him. Had he already dodged a bullet? Or was his comeuppance simply additional down the highway?

Shortly earlier than footage emerged of Prigozhin driving off into the night time in Rostov-on-Don, the Kremlin introduced a deal to finish the mutiny. Prigozhin would “retreat to Belarus,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated, with out elaborating on whether or not that meant a everlasting exile.

Prigozhin himself went silent, which was uncommon for a person who used to launch a number of written and spoken statements each day. Responding to an e-mail from The Related Press on June 25, the day after the mutiny, Prigozhin’s press service stated solely that he “says hello to everybody” and would reply to all questions as soon as he will get “correct connection.”

An elaborate 11-minute statement from Prigozhin appeared the next day, nevertheless it contained nothing about the place he was or what was subsequent for him and his forces. As a substitute, he defended himself and the mutiny in his traditional defiant and bullish method.

He stated his march on Moscow began due to an injustice — an alleged assault on his fighters in Ukraine by the Russian navy. He taunted the navy, calling Wagner’s march a “grasp class” in how authorities troopers ought to have carried out the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. He identified safety breaches that allowed Wagner to advance 780 kilometers (500 miles) with out resistance and to dam all navy items on its approach.

The next morning, on June 27, Russian authorities introduced they had been dropping the criminal investigation into the revolt, with no charges for the Wagner chief nor another members — though a couple of dozen Russian troops had been killed in clashes and several other navy plane had been shot down.

Later within the day, Putin hinted that there could be a brand new probe — this time into Prigozhin’s funds. The Russian chief informed a navy gathering that the state paid Wagner nearly $1 billion in only one 12 months, whereas Prigozhin’s different firm earned about the identical from authorities contracts. Putin puzzled aloud whether or not any of it was stolen and promised to “determine it out.”

On the day the costs had been dropped, Prigozhin’s plane was spotted in Belarus, and Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who helped dealer the deal to finish the mutiny, stated the Wagner chief had arrived. Belarusian activists soon reported that a camp was being erected there for fighters who determined to comply with him.

In Russia, Prigozhin’s main enterprise asset — a media firm known as Patriot — shut down, and many of the news outlets it owned were blocked by authorities. Prigozhin’s media operations included the notorious “troll manufacturing facility” that led to his indictment within the U.S. for meddling within the 2016 presidential election.

Wagner additionally introduced a halt to recruitment of latest mercenaries “because of the transfer to Belarus.”

On July 6, nevertheless, Lukashenko told reporters that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg — or “possibly he went to Moscow, or possibly elsewhere, however he isn’t in Belarus.” The remarks got here amid media experiences that money and gear seized throughout police searches of Prigozhin’s property had been returned to him.

“What’s going to occur to him subsequent? Properly, something can occur in a lifetime. However should you assume that Putin is so malicious and vindictive that he can be offed someplace tomorrow. … No, this won’t occur,” Lukashenko assured.

Because it turned out, Putin met with Prigozhin a number of days after the revolt.

Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, informed reporters on July 10 that the meeting took place in the Kremlin and involved more than 30 Wagner commanders in addition to Prigozhin. The revelation got here after Peskov repeatedly stated the Kremlin knew nothing about Prigozhin’s whereabouts — together with on the day of the assembly with Putin, June 29.

Putin’s spokesperson wouldn’t supply any particulars in regards to the assembly, saying solely that the commanders pledged their loyalty to the Russian president.

Putin later echoed that concept, saying in a July 13 interview that “many had been nodding” when he supplied to allow them to proceed serving below one of many Wagner commanders. However a defiant Prigozhin spoke for them and stated they didn’t just like the proposal, based on the Russian president.

Feedback from the Wagner chief himself grew to become uncommon. Nothing extra was posted by his spokespeople past the 11-minute audio message issued two days after the mutiny.

Phrases or visuals of Prigozhin as a substitute appeared in certainly one of a number of Telegram channels believed to be linked to Wagner. The relative quiet raised questions over whether or not holding a low public profile was a part of his cope with the Kremlin.

One such video on July 19 reportedly came from Belarus. Blurry footage confirmed a silhouette of a person trying like Prigozhin towards the sky at nightfall, and his distinctive gravelly voice was heard addressing rows of males in fatigues.

“Welcome guys! I’m glad to greet you all. Welcome to Belarusian land!” he stated.

Prigozhin repeated his criticism of the conduct of the combating in Ukraine. “What’s going on the frontline at this time is a disgrace during which we shouldn’t participate,” he stated, including that Wagner forces may return to Ukraine sooner or later.

Within the meantime, Prigozhin stated, Wagner would practice in Belarus after which set off on a brand new journey to Africa, where his mercenaries have been active in several countries.

One other video, posted on Aug. 21 in a unique Telegram channel, showed a close-up of Prigozhin toting a rifle while standing on a dusty plain. Prigozhin didn’t say the place the video was recorded, however he referenced the temperature being 50 levels Celsius (122 levels Fahrenheit).

“Simply the best way we prefer it,” he boasted. He stated Wagner was “making Russia even higher on all continents and Africa much more free.”

Two days later got here the aircraft crash — precisely two months after Priogzhin first introduced his revolt.

Though the Kremlin rejected allegations that it was behind the crash, the fact of these two months possible didn’t sit properly with Putin, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov stated.

The mutiny “showcased Putin’s weak point to everybody,” stated Gallyamov, who as soon as labored as a Kremlin speechwriter. After that, Prigozhin “was feeling regular.” He was engaged on initiatives in Belarus and in Africa, and the case towards him was closed.

That actuality “utterly dissatisfied Putin as a result of it was an open invitation for potential mutineers,” Gallyamov stated.

By Maggi

"Greetings! I am a media graduate with a diverse background in the news industry. From working as a reporter to producing content, I have a well-rounded understanding of the field and a drive to stay at the forefront of the industry." When I'm not writing content, I'm Playing and enjoying with my Kids.

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