ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is not planning to attend the funeral of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin following his death in a plane crash, the Kremlin said Tuesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t say where or when the chief of the Wagner Group military company would be buried, although some Russian media suggested it could take place as early as Tuesday in Prigozhin’s home city of St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg’s Fontanka news outlet and some other media said Prigozhin, 62, will likely be put to rest at the Serafimovskoye cemetery, which has previously been used for high-profile military burials. On Tuesday, heavy police cordons encircled the cemetery, where Putin’s parents are also buried. Increased police presence was also reported at some other city cemeteries.
Prigozhin’s top lieutenants, who died in Wednesday’s crash alongside him, were also expected to be buried in St. Petersburg.
The country’s top criminal investigation agency, the Investigative Committee, officially confirmed Prigozhin’s death on Sunday.
The committee didn’t say what might have caused Prigozhin’s business jet to plummet from the sky minutes after taking off from Moscow en route to St. Petersburg. Just before the crash, Prigozhin had returned from a trip to Africa, where he sought to expand Wagner Group’s activities.
A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that an intentional explosion caused the plane to go down, and Western officials have pointed to a long list of Putin’s foes who have been assassinated. The Kremlin rejected Western allegations that the Russian president was behind the crash as an “absolute lie.”
The crash came exactly two months after Prigozhin launched a rebellion against the Russian military leadership, leading his mercenaries to take over the military headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and then launching a march on Moscow. They downed several military aircraft, killing more than a dozen pilots.
Putin denounced the revolt as “treason” and vowed to punish its perpetrators but hours later struck a deal that saw Prigozhin ending the mutiny in exchange for amnesty and permission for him and his troops to move to Belarus.
Prigozhin’s second-in-command, Dmitry Utkin, as well as Wagner logistics chief Valery Chekalov, were also killed in the crash. Utkin, a retired military intelligence officer, baptized the group with his nom de guerre and led the group’s military operations.
The fate of Wagner, which until recently played a prominent role in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine and was involved in a number of African and Middle Eastern countries, is uncertain.
Putin said Wagner fighters could sign a contract with the Russian military, move to Belarus or retire from service. Several thousand have deployed to Belarus, where they are in a camp southeast of the capital, Minsk.