A private service was held Tuesday to honor Russian mercenary head Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to his spokespeople, who urged mourners to pay their respects at a cemetery in his native city of Saint Petersburg.
Prigozhin perished in a private plane crash last week, along with nine other individuals, two months after directing his troops to destabilize Russia’s military leadership.
The Kremlin has denied that the crash was staged in retaliation for Wagner’s march on Moscow in June.
“Yevgeny Viktorovich’s farewell was held in a closed setting. Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoye cemetery,” Prigozhin’s press service said in a statement, without specifying whether the mercenary chief, who was 62, had been buried.
According to many, the founder of the Wagner private fighting force’s decision to turn his forces on Moscow was the most important direct challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he took office.
Putin, who has charged Prigozhin with treason, said last week that he had known the ex-convict since the early 1990s and described him as a man who made mistakes but “achieved results.”
However, Putin’s remarks did little to quell growing speculation about Prigozhin’s death, with temporary monuments to the Wagner CEO sprouting up across Russian cities.
The Kremlin said earlier Tuesday that the Russian leader would not attend Prigozhin’s funeral.
“The president’s presence is not envisaged,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
There were no public announcements of when or where Prigozhin would be buried.
Following the disaster, Russian officials launched an investigation into air traffic violations but have not revealed any specifics about the likely reason.
The Wagner unit had played a key part in Putin’s operation in Ukraine, taking on the most perilous frontline tasks while the regular army appeared to collapse while suffering enormous losses, according to Western sources.
Unlike Russia’s generals, who have been chastised for avoiding war, the stocky and bald Prigozhin posed for photographs alongside mercenaries ostensibly on the front lines.
Prigozhin was permitted to publicly recruit new members in Russian prison camps and savaged Russia’s defense ministry.
Political pundits argued that, with the Russian presidential election coming up next year, Prigozhin had become a problem for the Kremlin.
Although the magnitude of Prigozhin’s riches is unknown, he has been described as a billionaire with a massive fortune established on governmental contracts.
He came from humble beginnings in Russia’s ancient imperial capital to become a member of Putin’s closest circle.
He was imprisoned for nine years during the Soviet Union’s closing years after being convicted of fraud and stealing.