When the jet believed to be carrying Yevgeniy Prigozhin and several top commanders of the Wagner paramilitary group fell from the sky west of Moscow on Wednesday, its destruction sent a terrifying message to Russia’s elite, even though the cause of the crash may never be conclusively known.

"Anyone who displays disloyalty will be seen by the state as an enemy that needs to be liquidated," said one well-connected Moscow businessman. "Everyone will believe that this was carried out on the orders of the czar. We may never know whether this is true or not. But it has frightened everyone."

The downing of Prigozhin's plane has bolstered Vladimir Putin' s hold on power, at least in the short term, officials and analysts said, restoring a reputation for a ruthlessness that had been undermined by his hesitant response to the Wagner mutiny in June and puzzling truce with the renegade warlord.

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