Russia refuses to investigate plane crash that killed mercenary leader Prigozhin

Yevgeny Prigozhin was a Russian businessman and the owner of the Wagner Group, a private military company that operated in various conflict zones around the world. He was also known as “Putin’s chef” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin and his close ties to President Vladimir Putin. He was accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, sponsoring Russian mercenaries in Syria, Libya, and Central African Republic, and orchestrating a failed coup attempt in Belarus in 2020. He died in a plane crash on August 23, 2023, along with nine other people, including two top commanders of the Wagner Group and four bodyguards.

How did the plane crash happen?

The plane that crashed was an Embraer Legacy 600, a Brazilian-made business jet that can carry up to 13 passengers. It took off from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 10:15 a.m. local time, with a destination of St Petersburg. According to flight data, the plane climbed to an altitude of about 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) and then suddenly plunged to the ground near the town of Solnechnogorsk, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Moscow. The plane exploded on impact and left a large crater in a forested area. There were no survivors.

Russia refuses to investigate plane crash that killed mercenary leader Prigozhin
Russia refuses to investigate plane crash that killed mercenary leader Prigozhin

What are the international rules for investigating plane crashes?

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency that sets standards and regulations for civil aviation, the country where the plane crash occurred is responsible for conducting an investigation and inviting other countries that have an interest in the accident to participate as observers. The country where the plane was registered, the country where the plane was manufactured, and the country where the operator was based are usually invited to join the investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to determine the causes and circumstances of the accident and to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. The investigation should follow the guidelines and procedures outlined in Annex 13 of the ICAO Convention.

Why did Russia not follow the international rules?

Russia informed Brazil’s aviation authority, CENIPA, that it will not open an investigation into the plane crash under international rules “at the moment”, according to Reuters. CENIPA had expressed its interest in joining a Russian-led investigation if it were invited and if the probe followed Annex 13. However, Russia said that since the flight was domestic, it was not subject to international rules and that it would conduct its own internal investigation. Some former investigators and aviation experts criticized Russia’s decision, saying that it would hurt the transparency and credibility of the investigation and that it would raise suspicions about Russia’s possible involvement in the crash. The US and other Western governments have accused Russia of being behind the crash, as Prigozhin was seen as a threat to Putin’s rule after he staged a brief mutiny against the Russian defense establishment in June 2023.

What are the implications of Russia’s refusal?

Russia’s refusal to investigate the plane crash under international rules could have serious implications for aviation safety, regional stability, and global security. By not allowing Brazil or other countries to participate in the investigation, Russia is depriving itself of valuable expertise and information that could help prevent similar accidents from happening again. By not following Annex 13, Russia is violating its obligations as a member of ICAO and undermining its credibility as a responsible actor in civil aviation. By not disclosing the causes and circumstances of the crash, Russia is fueling speculation and conspiracy theories about its role in Prigozhin’s death and its intentions in various conflict zones where Wagner Group operates. By not cooperating with other countries, Russia is isolating itself from the international community and increasing tensions with its rivals.

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