Russian mercenaries gathered on Tuesday for the funeral of one of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s deputies who was killed with his boss in a plane crash last week, though the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had no plans to attend Prigozhin’s funeral.
The family of Valery Chekalov, the head of Wagner logistics, was joined by dozens of people, some of whom Reuters identified as Wagner mercenaries, at the Severnoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital.
A Russian Orthodox priest said prayers and swung a censer before Chekalov’s coffin as family, friends and former colleagues, some holding bunches of flowers, bade farewell, Reuters video showed.
Some, including women and children in sunglasses, came forward to kiss his coffin. Unidentified mourners at the funeral ordered a Reuters videographer and photographer to stop filming.
The private Embraer Legacy 600 private jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St. Petersburg from Moscow crashed in the Tver region north of Moscow on Aug. 23 with the loss of all 10 people on board, including Chekalov, Dmitry Utkin — another top Wagner leader — and four men reported to be Prigozhin’s bodyguards.
It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash but villagers near the crash scene told Reuters they heard a bang and then saw the jet plummet to the ground.
When asked if Putin would attend the funeral of Prigozhin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “The presence of the president is not envisaged.”
Peskov said the Kremlin did not have any specific information about the funeral plans, and the arrangements were up to relatives. It was not immediately clear when Prigozhin’s funeral would take place.
The day after the crash, Putin sent his condolences to the families of those killed and said he had known Prigozhin for a very long time, since the chaotic years of the early 1990s.
“He was a man with a difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life,” Putin said, while describing him as a talented businessman.
The crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin and his mercenaries staged a mutiny against Putin’s top military commanders in which they took control of the southern city of Rostov and advanced towards Moscow before turning back 125 miles from the capital.
The mutiny posed the biggest challenge to Putin’s rule since he took power on the last day of 1999. The Kremlin has rejected as an “absolute lie” the suggestion by some Western politicians and commentators — for which they have not provided evidence — that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge.
President Joe Biden said last week he was not surprised by the death and that not much happened in Russia that Putin was not behind.
Investigators said on Sunday that genetic tests had confirmed the identities of all 10 people killed in the crash, who also included two pilots and a flight attendant.