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Among those believed to have lost their lives alongside Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash near Moscow was Dmitry Utkin. He was frequently characterized as the initiator or co-initiator of the mercenary organization, although his precise role remained a subject of contention.
Utkin’s own call sign was “Wagner,” an homage to Adolf Hitler’s favored composer. Investigative platform Bellingcat noted in 2020 that Utkin exhibited a pronounced fascination with the history of the Third Reich. A recent report also detailed his adornment of various Nazi tattoos, including a swastika, a Nazi eagle, and SS lightning bolts. It’s worth noting that the Wagner group apparently took its name from Utkin.
Dmitry Utkin in the Wagner Group:
Nonetheless, a 2020 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank, pointed out that there exists uncertainty about whether Dmitry Utkin initiated the formation of the Wagner group or merely served as a figurehead for another individual.
Bellingcat revealed information from open-source data suggesting that Utkin might have been “employed as a convenient and untraceable decoy to obscure its state origins.”
It wasn’t until September 2022 that Prigozhin himself publicly acknowledged his founding of the group. Prior to that, he had taken legal action against news organizations that linked him to it. Both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on both Prigozhin and Utkin due to Wagner’s involvement in Ukraine.
Born in 1970, Dmitry Utkin was a former member of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service and had actively participated in both Chechen conflicts and also served in Syria. Notably, Utkin was a prominent Wagner group member in Russian operations in eastern Ukraine since 2014. For his contributions, he received awards from the Kremlin.
During the early 2000s, he assumed a decade-long role as the commander of the GRU’s Second Spetsnaz Brigade along the Estonian border before eventually retiring from the armed forces. However, according to his ex-wife, Utkin had a longing for life on the battlefield and missed it.
Utkin maintained a remarkably low public profile, rarely appearing or making statements. His most recent sighting was in a video by Prigozhin in July. The Wagner leader addressed fighters stationed in Belarus following an unsuccessful mutiny the preceding month.
In the mentioned video, Prigozhin introduces a man he identifies as Utkin. This marks the first instance where the commander was speaking to his troops on camera.
“This is not the end, this is only the beginning of the greatest work in the world, which will continue very soon,” Utkin says in the video. “And welcome to hell,” he adds the last words in English.
Dmitry Utkin has faced allegations of human rights violations. He faced sanctions by the UK and New Zealand in connection with the 2022 Russian incursion into Ukraine, as reported by BBC. In response, the Council of the European Union enacted sanctions against him and other individuals affiliated with the Wagner Group in 2021.