Leon Panetta on the fate of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin: “If you cross Putin, the likelihood is you’re going to die”

When the plane carrying Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin fell out of the sky Wednesday, no one doubted for a moment Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind it. 

CIA director Bill Burns had predicted as much weeks ago. On July 20 he told the Aspen Security Forum, “Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback, so I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution for this.”

When Prigozhin rode away a free man after leading a short-lived mutiny against the Russian military, Burns knew it was only a matter of time: “Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold.”

A law enforcement officer works at the site of a plane crash near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia, August 24, 2023. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group that led a mutiny against Russia’s army in June, was on the list of passengers.

OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images

Putin runs Russia like the godfather of a crime family, littering the landscape with violent deaths, mystery illnesses, and dubious suicides – more than two dozen by U.S. count.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who had defected to England, died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a radioactive substance called polonium. It took ten years for investigators to trace it to Russian intelligence agents.

In 2016 then-British home secretary Theresa May said, “The conclusion that the Russian state was probably involved in the murder of Mr.. Litvinenko is deeply disturbing.

May was prime minister when it happened again, in 2018. Another defector, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were nearly killed by nerve agent while sitting on a park bench. Once again the trail led back to Moscow. It is now clear that Mr. Skirpal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” May said.

Martin asked Leon Panetta, who was director of the CIA and secretary of defense in the Obama administration, “What does it take to get on Putin’s hit list?”

“He’s got a very low tolerance level,” Panetta replied. “If you cross Putin, the likelihood is you’re going to die. One way or another, he ultimately takes care of the problem, whether it’s an open window or whether it’s poisonings, or whether it’s some kind of a gunshot in the middle of the night.”

One of Putin’s most vocal critics, Alexei Navalny, is in prison now. But before that he nearly died after being poisoned by the same nerve agent Putin’s spies had used in England.

Martin asked if Putin cares whether the finger of suspicion points at him. Panetta replied, “In some ways I think deep down he takes pride in the fact that people know that he’s going to get back at them.”

“His idea of the perfect crime is one where you actually know who did it, you just can don’t anything about it?”

“That’s exactly right,” Panetta said. “In his mind that basically makes clear – to Russia and to the world – that he is in total control of what goes on in Russia.”

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Story produced by Mary Walsh. Editor: Chad Cardin.

See also:

Wagner uprising “most significant threat” Putin has faced


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