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Nandi-Ndaitwah not aware of Namibian dying in Wagner boss crash

MINISTER of international relations and cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and executive director Penda Naanda say they are not aware of a Namibian national dying in the plane crash that claimed the life of Russian oligarch and Wagner Group private military company leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

This comes after a local radio station reported that a Namibian named Henk van Zyl from Grootfontein was one of 10 people who died when Prigozhin’s private jet crashed north-west of Moscow on 23 August, killing all those on board.

Among the dead was Dmitry Utkin, who managed Wagner’s military operations.

“The ministry is not aware, but we have learnt about it from the media,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said this week.

She said the names of the people on board the crashed aircraft as received from Namibia’s embassy in Moscow are not “familiar” Namibian names.

“When we asked the media to give us their sources of information to enable us to follow up, they did not share,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said.

Naanda this week also said the names of the deceased are not Namibian household names.

He said the ministry cannot deny or confirm whether Namibian nationals are fighting in Ukraine.

“We don’t ask Namibians what they do in the countries in which they live,” he said.

Eagle FM reported last week on its social media platforms that Van Zyl had been identified among the deceased in the Prigozhin plane crash, which claimed the life of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and eight others.

It was reported that Van Zyl, who was a South African Defence Force soldier, reportedly joined the war in Ukraine early last year on Russia’s side under the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, and then progressed to fight under Wagner.

Eagle FM reportedly spoke to Van Zyl’s wife, Henrietta, from Russia, who confirmed her husband’s death.

Eagle FM station manager Frans Sinengela told The Namibian that the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation had not sought assistance from them.

“Not that I am aware of. Maybe they are yet to come,” he said.

Prigozhin’s plane crash came two months after the Wagner Group mutiny against Russia’s armed forces, seizing the southern city of Rostov and threatening to march on Moscow.

The stand-off was defused after a deal was allegedly reached according to which Prigozhin and Wagner fighters would relocate to Belarus.

Russian president Vladimir Putin described the mutiny as a “stab in the back”, and there has been speculation that Russian security forces were somehow involved in the crash.

The Wagner Group, a thousands-strong private military force, has in recent years become one of Russia’s most influential foreign policy tools.

It has played a significant role on the battlefields of Syria and Ukraine, and has expanded its footprint in Africa.

The group has operated in several African countries since 2017, often providing its clients with direct military support and related security services alongside propaganda efforts, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank specialising in United States foreign policy and international relations.

The council said the Wagner Group has established operations in several African countries, focusing on security issues.

It has often provided security services and paramilitary assistance and launched disinformation campaigns for troubled regimes in exchange for resource concessions and diplomatic support.

Wagner is most active in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and Sudan, all of which have a tenuous relationship with the West due to colonial legacies and inherent political differences.