A Telegram group linked to the Wagner mercenary group posted a threatening message, which was later edited minutes later, promising retaliation to "Russia's traitors," who the statement claimed killed their iconic leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. In June, Prigozhin orchestrated a failed rebellion against Russia's top military leaders.
"Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, hero of Russia, a true patriot of his Motherland, died as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia. But even in hell he will be the best! Glory to Russia!" read the statement from the channel called Grey Zone, which has more than 260,000 subscribers.
"Prigozhin's murder will have catastrophic consequences," the message continued. "The people who gave the order don't understand the mood in the army and morale at all. Let this be a lesson for all. You always have to go all the way."
However, several minutes later, the statement was edited by removing the previous paragraph and leaving a simple "Rest in peace, Dad" at the end of the message.
Wagner leader's death confirmed
According to the Russian civil aviation agency Rosaviatsiya, the private Embraer-135 jet, which crashed on Wednesday afternoon in central Russia, was carrying 10 people, including Yevgeny Prigozhin and his "right hand" Dmitri Utkin, a former officer of Russian military intelligence (GRU). There were no survivors.
The agency also reported that "the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations carries out search operations."
The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry did not immediately comment officially on Prigozhin's death.
In a subsequent message, the Telegram group Grey Zone confirmed Prigozhin's death and asked all its members to wait for orders.
"All the first commanders of the private military enterprise "Wagner" confirmed the death of Yevgeny Viktorovich. Personally, we don't believe in this and we don't want to believe!" the statement reads. "We strongly request that no action be taken, that no progress be made towards monuments and memorials, that no motorized demonstrations or demonstrations be held, that no action be taken without an order. All future actions will be carried out through the video appeal of commanders."
Prigozhin's last public appearance was last Monday, in a video posted by groups close to Wagner in which he claimed to be in Africa.
"We are working. The temperature is above 50 degrees, just the way we like it. The Wagner group is carrying out a reconnaissance mission, making Russia even bigger on all continents and Africa even freer," the now-deceased leader of the mercenary group said in the video.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said he didn't know for sure what had happened to Prigozhin.
"I don't know for a fact what happened. But I'm not surprised ... There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer," the president said.