Wagner Chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, laid to rest in low keyed funeral
Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has been buried in a private funeral in St Petersburg.
His press service said the ceremony, in his home city, was held in “a closed format”, and all those “wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoe cemetery”.
The mercenary chief was confirmed dead by Russian officials after genetic analysis of 10 bodies found in a crashed plane on August 23 near Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied speculation it was to blame for the crash.
But a number of Russia watchers – both in the country and abroad – have described Prigozhin, 62, as a “dead man walking” since an aborted armed mutiny he led back in June.
All 10 people on board – including Prigozhin’s right-hand man Dmitry Utkin – died in the crash in the Tver region, north-west of Moscow.
The Wagner press service gave the information about Prigozhin’s funeral in a short statement on Telegram on Tuesday.
It however provided no further details.
In life, Yevgeny Prigozhin had been a man of mystery. Often concealing his identity, with the help of wigs and fake beards.
Clearly the mystery didn’t end with his death.
All day St Petersburg had been buzzing with rumours and speculation about where the mercenary chief would be laid to rest. There was no advance warning. No official announcement of when and where it would happen. On social media at least four different cemeteries were being speculated as possibilities.
In the end, it was none of them.
Eventually Prigozhin’s representatives revealed that the head of Wagner had been buried in Porokhovskoe Cemetery on the edge of St Petersburg beside his late father.
Outside the cemetery we’re told that it is officially closed for the day, so we can’t go in. And just to make sure that the media gathered outside doesn’t try to get in, the place is pretty much in lockdown.
There are long lines of police along the perimeter fence and throughout the cemetery. I can see sniffer dogs, anti-drone officers and riot police.
The funeral may have been low-key. The security; far from it.
You can understand why.
The Wagner mutiny that Prigozhin organised, was viewed as treachery by the Kremlin. As far as the Russian authorities are concerned, the less attention the better.
Russia’s MSK1 website quoted cemetery officials as saying the funeral was held at about 16:00 local time (13:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
“That’s what (Prigozhin’s)relatives wished,” the officials said.
MSK1 also said Prigozhin was buried next to his father’s grave. It added that Wagner’s black-yellow-red flag could be seen at the site.
St Petersburg’s Fontanka news outlet reported that metal detectors had been installed at the entrance, as the authorities were believed to be preparing for a mass pilgrimage to Prigozhin’s grave.
Separately, the funeral of Prigozhin’s top deputy Valery Chekalov – who was also on the crashed plane – was also held on Tuesday at St Petersburg’s Severnoe Cemetery. The 47-year-old is believed to have been running Prigozhin’s non-military business interests, which Western governments say are used to finance the mercenary group.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin leader would not be attending Prigozhin’s funeral, although Wagner fighters played a key part in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by Putin in February 2022.
Putin stayed silent for nearly 24 hours after the crash. The following day he sent his condolences to the families of all the victims.
And he described Prigozhin as a “talented person” who “made serious mistakes in life”.
In June, Prigozhin – once a Putin loyalist – led the rebellion against the top two generals of the Russian armed forces.
His mercenaries took control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, and were marching on Moscow – only halting the mutiny about 200km (125 miles) from the capital.
Putin at the time described the rebellion as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”, but a deal was later struck for Wagner fighters either to join Russian regular army units or move to Belarus, a Russian ally.
However, there has been frenzied speculation that Russian security forces were somehow involved in the plane crash.
US officials quoted by CBS, the BBC’s media partner in America, have said that the most likely cause of the crash was an explosion on board the private jet.
Peskov dismissed rumours of foul play as an “absolute lie”. BBC