Putin breaks silence on Wagner plane crash which killed chief Prigozhin

Wagner Group mercenary cries at shrine for Yevgeny Prigozhin

In his first response to the tragic plane crash believed to have claimed the life of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, along with nine others, President Putin has offered his condolences.

Describing Prigozhin as a talented businessman he’s known since the 1990s, the president assured that Russia will thoroughly investigate the crash based on the investigators’ findings, although a complete investigation might take some time.

These remarks come just 24 hours after the jet crashed north of Moscow.

When Yevgeny Prigozhin rebelled against the Kremlin in June this year in a failed uprising, Western officials predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would take revenge against him.

Just two months later, Prigozhin and his top brass from the Wagner private military group were killed in a plane crash near Moscow.

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This latest development is said to have sent a serious warning message to others in Russia: If you go against the Kremlin, you might not survive.

While authorities are unlikely to announce the cause of the crash anytime soon, Prigozhin’s plane was seen plummeting from a large cloud of smoke, twisting wildly and missing a wing in videos posted to Telegram channels and social media.

One witness said the jet “exploded in the sky” and “something sort of was torn from it in the air”.

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Some Russian media speculated it was brought down by a bomb. Prigozhin’s supporters claimed on their messaging app channels that it was shot down by an air defense system, bluntly accusing authorities of assassinating him. None of the allegations cited any evidence.

In previous years, other Kremlin critics have died from poisoning in what the Russian opposition and the West described as targeted killings that had Putin’s blessing, but none has been known to have perished in an air accident.

Former Putin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov said the failure to punish Prigozhin initially had eroded Putin’s authority, sending “an open invitation to any potential rebels and mutineers”.

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