Ever since the purported aborted coup attempt against Russian leadership in June, Western media and governments have closely monitored the alleged activities and whereabouts of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and supposed former close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who heads an elite private military corporation known as the Wagner Group.
That watch may have concluded on Wednesday amid reports from Russian media and others that Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow, Breitbart reported.
Further, a Russian source believed to be closely aligned with the Wagner Group has asserted that Prigozhin was essentially assassinated as his private plane was reportedly shot down by Russian anti-aircraft defense systems in the vicinity of that nation's capital city.
Shortly before noon local time on Wednesday, the "Grey Zone" Telegram channel that has been associated with the Wagner Group posted a message that said, "The Embraer Legacy 600 business jet with registration number RA-02795, which belonged to Yevgeny Prigozhin, was allegedly shot down by air defense fire in the Bologovsky district of the Tver region."
The post added, "Before the plane crash, local residents listened to two bursts of characteristic air defense, and this is confirmed by contrails in the sky in one of the videos, as well as the words of direct eyewitnesses."
Just shy of an hour later, Russian state media outlet TASS reported that the Federal Air Transport Agency had opened an investigation into the reported crash of the Embraer jet in the Tver region, that Prigozhin was listed as one of seven passengers on the jet, and that all 10 people on board -- the passengers plus three crew members -- were believed to have perished in the crash.
To be sure, there was some healthy and justifiable skepticism about the veracity of the initial reports about Prigozhin's death, even as the possibility of an assassination attempt against him -- whether authorized by Putin or a rogue effort by the Russian military generals the mercenary leader often clashed with -- was certainly within the realm of consideration in the aftermath of the alleged "coup" attempt in late June.
At least some of that skepticism may have been laid to rest by follow-up posts from the Grey Zone Telegram account, however, as Breitbart noted that it appeared to confirm that Prigozhin truly was on board the private jet that, in their view, was shot down by the Russian military or, based on the reporting of the state-controlled Russian media, simply crashed of its own accord in a tragic accident.
"The head of the Wagner Group, Hero of Russia, a true patriot of his Motherland, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, died as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia," the Grey Zone wrote in a post several hours after the initial reports. "But even in Hell he will be the best! Glory to Russia!"
Less than a half-hour earlier, the account stated: "The assassination of Prigozhin would have catastrophic consequences. The people who gave the order do not understand the mood in the army and morale at all."
Just a few minutes later, the Grey Zone added, "Let this be a lesson to all. You always have to go to the end."
That "lesson" about having to always "go to the end" is believed to be in reference to Prigozhin's reported decision to halt his armed march on the Kremlin, where he was allegedly intending to use force to alter the Russian military's leadership, in exchange for a supposed guarantee of safety in exile in neighboring Belarus.
As for the apparent warning of "catastrophic consequences" following the death of Prigozhin, it is unclear exactly what that entails but there have been rumors floating around social media of a potential mutiny or another coup attempt, perhaps including regular Russian soldiers in addition to Wagner Group mercenary forces.
All of that said, it is also well within the realm of possibilities that all of this is an elaborate hoax intended to deceive everyone -- Russian and Western alike -- into believing that Prigozhin is dead when he could potentially still be alive and well and hiding in secret in the ostensible safety of some other foreign nation.