Wagner boss Prigozhin's death confirmed by Moscow

Investigators said genetic analysis had confirmed the death of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in last Wednesday's plane crash (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)
Investigators said genetic analysis had confirmed the death of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in last Wednesday's plane crash (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was formally confirmed dead on Sunday following genetic analysis, investigators said, as anger and questions continued to mount over what caused his plane to crash earlier in the week.

Speculation that the Kremlin may have been involved in the crash has been rife, with the incident coming exactly two months after Wagner staged a mutiny against Moscow's military leadership.

"Molecular-genetic examinations have been completed as part of the investigation into the plane crash in the Tver region," said Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman from Russia's Investigative Committee.

"According to their results, the identities of all 10 victims were established, they correspond to the list stated in the flight list," she added.

Among the nine other people listed onboard the Embraer private jet that crashed on Wednesday was Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner's operations and allegedly served in Russian military intelligence.

- Makeshift memorials -

Russian officials opened an investigation into air traffic violations after the crash but have not disclosed details about a possible cause.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as "tragic" to reporters on Friday, calling rumours of possible foul play an "absolute lie".

His comments came as the Kremlin appeared to rein in groups like Wagner, with a presidential decree signed Friday forcing paramilitary fighters to swear an oath to the Russian flag.

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he had known Prigozhin -- once a loyal ally -- since the early 1990s, describing him as a man who made mistakes but "achieved results".

His comments did little to stem mounting questions and anger over the mercenary's chief's death, with makeshift shrines to Prigozhin springing up across Russian cities.

Video taken by AFP showed one memorial on Moscow's Varvarka street, just outside the Kremlin, as people stood solemnly before a line of red roses and pictures of the mercenary chief.

"He was killed," said one man wearing a shirt marked with the letter "Z" -- a symbol representing Russia's offensive in Ukraine.

"He was killed by his enemies. We won't say who... But we hope that revenge will catch up with those who committed this crime," he added.

A woman outside the memorial said that Prigozhin showed "courage, determination and persistence".

"He understood the threat that was looming. He understood it all perfectly. But despite that, he did his job," Landysh, 48, told AFP.

Moscow used Wagner's forces to prosecute some of the Ukraine conflict's bloodiest battles, including a devastating, months-long offensive that left the eastern city of Bakhmut in ruins.

Similar memorials were spotted across the country, in cities like Perm and Saint Petersburg -- Russia's former imperial capital and Prigozhin's birthplace.

- Drone strikes -

Hostilities between Moscow and Kyiv continued to rage on Sunday, with Russia announcing its border regions were hit by drones again and Ukraine reporting an overnight strike.

Russia and the Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula have been hit by almost daily attacks in the past month, since Kyiv warned in July it aimed to "return" the conflict to Russian territory.

Moscow's defence ministry said two Ukrainian drones flying over the border regions of Bryansk and Kursk Sunday had been repelled, after the governor of Belgorod region said a drone carrying explosives killed a man the day before.

Ukraine was also targeted Sunday, as its air force announced it shot down four cruise missiles during another Russian air raid overnight.

The head of Kyiv's regional military administration, Ruslan Kravchenko, said falling missile fragments had injured two people.

Authorities in Ukraine's southern Kherson region later said Russian shelling there had killed a woman and wounded two others.

The attacks came as Kyiv confirmed a second cargo ship left the southern port of Odesa via a civilian corridor -- despite warnings from Russia that vessels using Ukraine's Black Sea ports could be considered targets.

- 'Juice' -

Ukraine meanwhile mourned the loss of three pilots killed in a mid-air collision, as leading figures paid tribute to well-known fighter ace "Juice" killed in the crash on Friday.

The crash involving two combat training aircraft marked a painful blow for Kyiv, which has been looking to secure advanced F-16 jets to modernise its Soviet-era air force.

The 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade named the three dead as Major Vyacheslav Minka, Major Sergiy Prokazin and Captain Andrii Pilshchykov -- better known by his call-sign "Juice".

President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed an investigation into what happened.