The Kremlin on Friday unsurprisingly said Western accusations that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the fiery plane crash death of Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin this week are “an absolute lie.”
Prigozhin’s name was included on the passenger list of a jet that crashed in mysterious circumstances on Wednesday—killing everyone on board. Putin himself offered his condolences to Prigozhin’s family on Thursday, though stopped short of confirming the mercenary leader’s death while a “preliminary investigation” is still underway.
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With Prigozhin’s apparent demise coming exactly two months after his failed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership—an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority—Western analysts immediately suspected that the Wagner boss’ purported death was just the latest instance of Putin exacting ruthless vengeance against a perceived traitor.
Some reports have suggested that a surface-to-air missile may have brought the plane down, while others point to a bomb being planted on the aircraft and detonated mid-flight. All these theories, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, are false.
“There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Peskov told reporters Friday. “Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle.”
“All of this is an absolute lie, and here, when covering this issue, it is necessary to base yourself on facts,” Peskov added. “There are not many facts yet. They need to be established in the course of investigative actions.”
He also said “genetic tests” are being carried out on the 10 bodies found at the crash site in Russia’s Tver region, less than 100 miles from Moscow. Until the results are in and the victims’ identities are ascertained, Peskov said it was impossible to answer questions about whether Putin would attend Prigozhin’s funeral, adding that the president has “a very full schedule.”
Questions about the flight aren’t just coming from the West. A well-connected Russian Telegram channel published an unverified video purportedly showing two potential buyers inspecting Prigozhin’s jet just hours before it crashed on Wednesday.
According to the VChK-OGPU channel, the aircraft was up for sale for around $5.4 million and a pair of “mysterious buyers” went to examine it. The Telegram account claims the interested parties were Rusjet Airlines employees who arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and were declared as passengers on the doomed flight so that they could be granted access to a secure area and eventually the aircraft itself.
The video supposedly taken on board the Embraer Legacy 600 business jet shows what appears to be a framed image of Putin in a pilot’s helmet hanging on a wall inside the cabin. The Telegram channel says the pair left after about an hour, shortly before Prigozhin and the other passengers boarded.
No smoking gun evidence has yet emerged definitively showing that Prigozhin’s plane was blasted out of the skies on Putin’s orders, but many experts and politicians were unambiguous about where they believe blame lies. “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” President Joe Biden said after a briefing about the crash. “But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky similarly intimated that he believed his Russian counterpart was responsible. “We had nothing to do with it,” he told reporters Thursday. “Everybody realizes who has something to do with it.”
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