Wagner chief Prigozhin 'killed' as 10 die in plane crash near Moscow – follow live – The Independent

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As Belarusian president claims he told Wagner chief and his ally Utkin: ‘Lads – you watch out’
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Wagner chief Prigozhin killed
Vladimir Putin has ordered Wagner mercenaries to sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state after a plane believed to be carrying their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed near Moscow.
With immediate effect on Friday, Russia’s president signed the decree, published on the Kremlin website, which obliges anyone carrying out work on behalf of the military or Moscow’s war in Ukraine to swear a formal oath of allegiance to Russia.
The oath includes a line in which those who take it promise to strictly follow the orders of commanders and senior leaders.
It comes after the Kremlin insisted that claims Prigozhin had been killed on its orders were an “absolute lie”, as Mr Putin euologised the mercenary chief as a “talented businessman” who had made some “serious mistakes.”
Meanwhile, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko claims to have warned Prigozhin to “watch out” for threats to his life during his troops mutinous march on Moscow in June, to which he said Prigozhin had answered: “To hell with it – I will die.”
At least two civilians were killed and a third was injured in Ukraine’s northeastern frontline area where Russian forces struck a cafe yesterday, regional officials said.
Russian shells struck the cafe in Podoly, an eastern suburb of Kupiansk, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram post. He added that rescue teams were working at the site.
The shelling near the city of Kupiansk came as UK officials said that Russia may try to retake the area, which was captured by Kyiv in a lightning counteroffensive last September after more than six months of Russian occupation. Fierce fighting there earlier this month had already prompted mandatory evacuations and fears of a second Russian takeover.
A senior European Union official has urged Russia to renew the Black Sea grain deal, after Moscow quit the UN-brokered agreement last month.
European Commission executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said Russian restrictions on shipping of Ukrainian grains via the Black Sea were creating problems not only for Kyiv but for many developing countries as well.
Russia is using “grain as a weapon”, said Dombrovskis, who is in India to participate in a G20 trade ministers’ meeting. “We support all efforts by United Nations, by Turkey on Black Sea grain initiative,” he said, adding that the bloc was providing alternative trading routes to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s air defence systems were repelling a Russian air attack on Kyiv’s outskirts early on Sunday, Kyiv’s military administration said on Telegram as all of the war-hit nation was covered under air-raid alerts at 5am local time.
A Reuters witness reported the sound of blasts.
One of the three Ukrainian pilots killed as two training aircraft collided in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv has been described as a “mega talent”.
President Volodymr Zelensky confirmed in his nightly address that Andriy Pilshchykov, a Ukrainian officer well-known to broadcast audiences and whose callsign is Juice, was among the dead.
Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat described Pilshchykov – who was no older than 30 – as a “mega talent” and leader of reforms.
“You can’t even imagine how much he wanted to fly an F-16,” Mr Ihnat wrote on his Facebook page. “But now that American planes are actually on the horizon, he will not fly them.”
Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have been supported on the battlefield by tens of thousands of mercenaries from a shadowy group led by a businessman and longtime ally of president Vladimir Putin.
The Wagner Group is a private military company that was under the control of Yevgeny Prigozhin until his reported death in a plane crash on Wednesday 23 August.
The unit cut its teeth in deployments to Crimea – illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 – and eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in the aftermath of that act and has since dispatched troops to several conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, including the Syrian Civil War.
In Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wagner has been a key part of Moscow’s fighting force, but a power struggle between the Kremlin and the outspoken Prigozhin threatened – for 24 hours at least – to drag Russia towards a civil war of its own.
My colleagues Liam James and Joe Sommerlad have more in this report:
Vladimir Putin has leant on military contractors to claim victories in Ukraine but his former friend’s attempted mutiny and threats against Russia’s defence establishment have exposed cracks in the president’s authority
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s apparent punishment was relatively swift, as it usually is when politicians, journalists or former spooks uncover inconvenient truths, writes John Kampfner, the executive director at Chatham House.
“The methods are many and varied: poisoning, shooting, plane crashes and, the simplest of them all, the mysterious falling out of a window. Sometimes they are carried out discreetly, but more often in the open, to send a signal about the dangers of defiance.
“To be fair, targeted killings began before Putin came to power in 2000. In the 1990s, incidents such as these often had the imprimatur of the Chechen leadership. Or else it was criminal gangs (and their political masters) settling scores. What Putin did was to transform state assassinations onto an industrial scale.”
You can read more on Putin’s hit list in this long read:
The methods are many and varied: poisoning, shooting, plane crashes and, the simplest of them all, the mysterious falling out of a window. John Kampfner on how Putin transformed state assassinations of his foes and political opponents onto an industrial scale
Iran’s defence ministry has claimed that several unnamed “Western and European countries” are interested in acquiring its Shahed attack drones, amid claims the US is seeking to stop Tehran from selling them to Russia.
Russia began using the Iranian-made Shahed drones to attack deep inside Ukraine last year. The so-called kamikaze unmanned drones do not need a runway to launch and explode on impact.
As Russia’s deputy foreign minister insisted that Moscow and Tehran would not “succumb to the dictates of the United States and its satellites”, Iran’s defence ministry said: “None of the transactions (regarding drones) that we have had … with other countries, such as Russia, have been cancelled.”
A White House official said in June that Iran had transferred several hundred drones to Russia since last August.
Russia’s military cooperation with Iran will not succumb to geopolitical pressure, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov has said, following a report that Washington has asked Tehran to stop selling drones to Moscow.
“There are no changes, and cooperation with Iran will continue,” Mr Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency RIA. “We are independent states and do not succumb to the dictates of the United States and its satellites.”
The Financial Times reported this month that the US is pressing Iran to stop selling the so-called kamikaze Shahed drones, which Russia is using in the war in Ukraine, citing an Iranian official and another person familiar with the talks.
Ukraine has made further gains near the Zaporizhzhia village of Robotyne, analysts have said, where Kyiv’s troops have passed Russia’s first line of defence.
The Institute for the Study of War think-tank said that geolocated combat footage published on Friday indicated that Ukrainian forces had moved southward by 1.5 kilometers to a tree line northeast of Novopokropivka.
The ISW’s Russia analyst George Barros said Ukraine’s troops are “now geolocated to be within 2.5 km of the great anti-vehicle ditch – the next major military engineering obstacle within the Russian layered defence”.
Russia appears to have also made gains west of Robotyne
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