Eight bodies have been recovered after a private jet reportedly containing Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed in the Tver region north of Moscow, Russian agencies have reported.
The Wagner mercenary boss was on board the aircraft when it came down, authorities have said.
Russian media outlet Baza said eight dead bodies were found at the scene, all of them so badly burnt it would take a DNA test to confirm their identities. One of the bodies has a missing head.
According to Russia’s federal air transport agency: “An investigation of the Embraer plane crash that happened in the Tver Region this evening was initiated.
“According to the passenger list, first and last name of Yevgeny Prigozhin was included in this list.”
The flight appears to have been travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg. Wagner-linked Telegram channels have reported that the plane was shot down by Russian air defences.
Mr Prigozhin led an abortive coup against Russia’s military leadership in June, which ended after Wagner fighters were promised amnesty in neighbouring Belarus.
Follow below for the latest updates.
07:57 PM BST
‘Don’t be surprised if Prigozhin is dead’, says White House
The death of Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash would not be a surprise given his falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the White House.
“We have seen the reports” of the crash, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, adding: “If confirmed, no one should be surprised.”
07:51 PM BST
The biggest surprise is that Prigozhin survived for so long
Death resolves all problems, Josef Stalin is supposed to have said. No man, no problem, Roland Oliphant writes.
Wednesday’s air crash in the Tver region may have resolved one of the knottiest problems facing Vladimir Putin. In retrospect, the most surprising thing about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s reported death is that he survived for so long.
Ever since he marched an army of disgruntled mercenaries on Moscow in June, Kremlin watchers have been wondering why Putin allowed his former caterer to remain alive – let alone at liberty.
So while in an ordinary air crash it would be far too early to speculate about the causes, few will buy that this was really an accident.
Read the full story here.
07:48 PM BST
‘No one knows what’s going on,’ says Wagner-linked blogger
A Wagner-linked Telegram channel has urged caution after reports that Yevgeny Prigozhin and another founder of the mercenary group were killed.
Grey Zone wrote: “At the moment, it should be borne in mind that NO ONE, except for the people who personally saw Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin getting on the plane, has any information.
“Not from any sources or other persons. And those who have, they will not say until the situation is clarified.”
07:45 PM BST
Pictured: Crashed plane consumed by flames
07:42 PM BST
Plane crash ‘must have happened very quickly’
Whatever caused the plane linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin to crash north of Moscow must have happened “very quickly”, according to reports.
Baza, a Russian Telegram channel close to the security services, said: “The pilots of the crashed plane did not inform the dispatchers about any emergency situations.
“According to experts, this means that the critical situation on board the aircraft developed very quickly.”
07:35 PM BST
Investigators ‘already sifting through flight records’
An investigation into the plane crash that reportedly killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has already begun, according to Russian state media.
Ria Novosti reports: “A specially-created commission… has begun collecting factual materials on crew training, the technical condition of the aircraft, the meteorological situation on the flight route, the work of dispatch services and ground radio equipment.
“Specialists will also have to find on-board means of objective control for their subsequent decoding and analysis of the ‘black box’ recordings.”
07:30 PM BST
Biden briefed on private jet crash
US President Joe Biden has been briefed about the crash of a private jet in Russia on Wednesday, the White House says.
07:28 PM BST
Pictures: Smoke rises from plane after it plummets from the sky
07:25 PM BST
Prigozhin and Utkin dead, claims official
A Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region claims that Yevgeny Prigozhin and Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin have been killed.
Vladimir Rogov wrote on Telegram: “Just talked to some outstanding ‘musicians’ [a term for members of the Wagner Group]. They confirm the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin.
“Kingdom of Heaven to the newly-departed servants of God Yevgeny and Dmitry.”
The Telegraph has not independently verified the report.
07:20 PM BST
Prigozhin ‘arrived in Russia from Africa today’
Andrei Zakharov, a Russian investigative journalist, has quoted sources in Wagner saying that Prigozhin arrived in Russia from Africa today with the paramilitary group’s commanders.
Prigozhin hinted heavily that he was in Africa yesterday in a video message that was apparently recorded in a desert.
07:17 PM BST
Russian media: Plane may have belonged to private company
A plane that crashed in the Tver region belonged to a business transportation company called MNT-Aero LLC, according to Russia’s Ria Novosti state news agency.
Previous reports have indicated that it was a private jet owned by Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russia’s federal air transport agency said he was listed as a passenger on the plane.
07:07 PM BST
Reports: Second Prigozhin-owned plane lands near Moscow
A number of Russian military bloggers claim that a second private jet belonging to Yevgeny Prigozhin has landed at an airport near Moscow.
Grey Zone, a Telegram channel with close links to the Wagner Group, said: “Where Yevgeny Prigozhin was himself in the end – at the moment there is no data.”
The report has not been verified by The Telegraph.
07:03 PM BST
Plane belonged Prigozhin, reports AP
The plane that crashed was a private jet belonging to Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to the Associated Press.
07:01 PM BST
‘Contract was out on Prigozhin for weeks’
A contract may have been out on Yevgeny Prigozhin for some weeks, according to a former British intelligence officer.
Christopher Steele told Sky News: “We heard some weeks ago from a source that a contract had been put out on Prigozhin in Russia by senior members of the business community.”
He suggested that Vladimir Putin may not have authorised the assassination himself, addingL “It certainly looks as though it may well be a revenge attack by somebody in the elite.”
06:57 PM BST
Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?
It is not often a catering company tries to overthrow the government of a nuclear super power, writes Roland Oliphant.
“Regarding treason, the president is deeply mistaken,” Yevgeny Prigozhin snarled into a voice note released by his food company’s press service on Saturday morning.
“We are patriots of the motherland…and no one is going to surrender to the demands of the president, the FSB, or anyone else.”
And with that, the man known as Putin’s Chef became Putin’s would-be usurper. It was unthinkable just hours earlier.
But Prigozhin’s path to rebellion has been a long one.
Read the full profile – written in June at the time of Wagner’s coup – here.
06:53 PM BST
Footage of plane plummeting from sky
06:49 PM BST
Eight bodies recovered from crash site, say Russian media
Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports that eight bodies have been recovered from the crash site of an Embrear plane in the Tver region.
Previous reports have indicated that there were ten people onboard, including three crew members.
06:44 PM BST
Pictured: First images emerge of plane crash
06:43 PM BST
Plane ‘may have been Prigozhin’s private jet’
A media monitoring group has suggested that a plane that crashed this evening may have been a private jet owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Belarusian Hajun noted that the registration numbers seen on the wreckage of the plane matched those of the mercenary’s boss’ Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft.
06:39 PM BST
Watch: Prigozhin issued what may have been final video message yesterday
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner boss, yesterday appeared in a video message for the first time since his short-lived rebellion against Russia’s military leaders, Joe Barnes writes.
The mercenary chief was seen standing, with desert terrain as the backdrop, in camouflage and holding a loaded rifle, appearing to recruit guns for hire for the group’s operations in Africa.
“The temperature is plus-50C – everything as we like. The Wagner PMC makes Russia even greater on all continents and Africa – more free,” Prigozhin said in the video.
Read the full story here.
06:33 PM BST
Russian media: Terrorists may have targeted plane
Competing theories have emerged after a plane apparently carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin crash-landed.
Baza, a Russia Telegram channel with links to the security services, said: “According to one verison, a terrorist attack was the cause of the explosion on board the plane.”
Others have suggested that it was shot down by Russian air defences as it headed to St Petersburg.
06:29 PM BST
Wagner source: Prigozhin plane was targeted by Russian air defences
A Wagner-linked Telegram channel has suggested that a plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin was shot down by Russian air defences.
Grey Zone, which has a close relationship to the paramilitary group, said: “Before the plane crash, two local residents listened to two bursts of characteristic air defence.
“This is confirmed by contrails in the sky in one of the videos, as well as the words of direct eyewitnesses.”
06:25 PM BST
Aviation authority opens investigation into air crash
Russia’s aviation authority has opened an investigation into the plane crash that reportedly killed mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Rosaviatsia said: “An investigation has been launched into the Embraer plane crash that occurred tonight in the Tver region.
“According to the passenger list, among them is the name and surname of Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
06:23 PM BST
Reports: Another prominent Wagner member killed in crash
Another prominent member of the Wagner Group has also been killed in the plane crash, according to unconfirmed reports.
Russian military bloggers suggested that Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian intelligence officer and co-founder of the group, was also apparently killed.