Leaders of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, are rumoured to have died in a plane crash near Moscow, though official confirmation is pending.
Russian media outlet Readovka, known for its connections with Prigozhin, suggests that the mercenary group has a preset protocol in place should Prigozhin or Utkin meet untimely deaths.
A source who spoke with Daily Mail confirmed, “In the event of Prigozhin’s death, there is a mechanism for full mobilisation, regardless of who was at fault for his death.”
Channels linked to Wagner issued vengeful posts after the crash, indicating potential backlash if the leader’s death is confirmed.
The messages label those responsible as ‘traitors’ to Russia.
Mercenaries in a video said, “There’s a lot of talk right now about what the Wagner Group will do. We can tell you one thing.
“We are getting started, get ready for us.”
A former head of MI6, Sir John Sawyers while speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in respect to the incident said, “All the indications point to the fact that Putin has taken him out, he is reasserting his control.
“He is making clear to everyone both inside Russia and outside he is not going to brook any challenge.
“There is a slim chance he (Prigozhin) is not dead, and he wasn’t on that plane, he will be soon.”
The ex-spy added that security services would be able to detect if a missile had brought down the aircraft, but said he believed there was a “device on board which brought it down suddenly”.
Sir John concluded that it was a warning to other would-be rebels to ‘toe the line’.
Christopher Steele, who was with the Secret Intelligence Service and ran the MI6 Russia desk, added to John’s comments, arguing that downing Prigozhin’s plane would line up with ‘a pattern of state-backed activity’.
Steele said, “I would suspect very much that it was an FSB (Russian domestic intelligence service) or GRU (military intelligence service) operation.”
He pointed out that the plane crashed “just one day after General (Sergei) Surovikin was sacked from his job which was to be in charge of the security over the Russian homeland.
“He was seen as somebody that was one of the generals who was supporting Prigozhin and was an ally of his. For him to have been removed a day before does rather suggest a pattern of state-backed activity here.”