Putin breaks silence over Prigozhin’s reported death
After approximately 24 hours since the private jet of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, crashed, Vladimir Putin has finally spoken out.
The Russian president referred to Prigozhin as a “talented individual” who had made significant life mistakes.
Putin extended condolences to the families of the 10 individuals reportedly on the plane that went down near Moscow on Wednesday evening. However, he refrained from explicitly confirming Prigozhin’s demise.
Since the plane’s crash, there has been intense speculation regarding the crash’s cause and whether Prigozhin was indeed among the passengers, as indicated on the passenger list.
During a Thursday briefing, a Pentagon spokesperson expressed the belief that the Wagner chief likely perished in the crash.
Residents near the crash site in the Tver region reported hearing a loud noise before witnessing the plane plummeting from the sky. Russian media have proposed various theories, including the possibility of a bomb being smuggled aboard the aircraft.
A US official informed CBS News that an explosion inside the plane was the most probable cause.
An alternative theory from a Telegram channel associated with Prigozhin suggested that Russian anti-aircraft forces may have shot down the jet. However, the Pentagon asserted there was no confirmation of this, and inquiries were ongoing.
Ground personnel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where the plane departed en route to St. Petersburg, are undergoing questioning, and surveillance footage is under examination.
Prigozhin – the leader of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group – was once known as a Putin loyalist.
But after leading a short-lived mutiny in Russia in June, many observers described him as a “dead man walking”.
The Kremlin stayed conspicuously silent after the crash. The following morning, President Putin even addressed the BRICS summit in South Africa via video link – but made no mention of the crash that much of the world was talking about.
On Thursday evening, however, that changed.
“I would like to above all express words of the most sincere condolences to the families of all those who have died,” he said in a televised meeting at his Kremlin residence.
Initial data, he continued, suggested that “Wagner employees” were on board.
“These are people who have made a significant contribution to our common cause of fighting the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine,” Mr Putin said, repeating the Kremlin’s false narrative that Ukraine is aligned with Nazism.
He used this accusation to justify his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Turning to Prigozhin himself, Mr. Putin said he had known him since the early 90s, and described him as a “man with a complicated life”.
The Russian leader also had praise for Prigozhin and his fighters, in particular for their actions in Ukraine.
“He made serious mistakes in life. But he achieved results both for himself and for the common good when I asked for it – like in the last few months.”
Despite speaking about Prigozhin in the past tense and offering his sympathy to the families of the victims, Mr. Putin did not confirm the Wagner chief’s death.