The power environment in Russia was silent for hours about the plane crash that on Wednesday cost the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the life of the Russian president, Vladimir Prigozhin, until Thursday afternoon, almost a day later. Putin. That was the moment of praise for the former ally who, however, challenged him two months ago with a rebellion, quickly aborted, but which made the country tremble. Having fulfilled the obligatory condolences to the families, yesterday Friday it was time to counter the versions that, from Western governments and from Russian social networks, point to conspiracies or implicate the Russian leader in a plan to kill Prigozhin.
The Kremlin denied having assassinated the head of the main Russian mercenary group and described the theories of the intelligence services or Western leaders as "lies".
Prigozhin had been fulfilling the Kremlin's most secret assignments for years, but when he rose up in arms for the head of the Russian army's high command in June, Putin reacted by speaking of "traitors," "stabs in the back" and the danger of "civil war". This background has fed all these theories.
Putin's press secretary, Dimitri Peskov, yesterday rejected what he called Western "speculations". "This is all a lie," he said.
"There are many speculations surrounding this disaster, the tragic death of the plane's passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin," Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said yesterday. “Of course, in the West, all these speculations are presented from a certain angle. All this is an absolute lie, ”he stressed.
“When tackling this problem, it is necessary to rely solely on the facts. These are still few, because the investigations that are being carried out have not yet been clarified. Yesterday (by Thursday) the president said that he was waiting for the results of the investigation, which will conclude in the not too distant future, ”he added.
On the evening of August 23, Prigozhin was returning to Saint Petersburg from Moscow after a trip to Africa, accompanied by senior members of his mercenary army, including his right-hand man, Commander Dimitri Utkin.
The plane, an Embraer Legacy owned by the same oligarch, went down near the town of Kuzhenkino in Tver Oblast, 300 kilometers north of Moscow. Several neighbors filmed what happened and posted it on social networks. And witnesses claimed to have heard explosions before the plane began to plunge towards the ground.
10 people were traveling in the device, seven passengers and three crew members, according to the Russian civil aviation agency Rossaviatsia. The Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed that all the occupants died.
The bodies recovered from the scene of the accident were taken to the Tver morgue, the capital of that region, where autopsies and the necessary DNA analyzes will be carried out to identify them. Putin's words about Prigozhin served as official confirmation of his death. The Kremlin chief praised the founder of the Wagner Group, whom he said he had known since the early 1990s, highlighting his role in the Russian offensive in Ukraine and calling him "a talented businessman" who "achieved his goals." But he also indicated that he made "serious mistakes."
Western intelligence officials have told the media that an explosion on board the plane planted on Putin's orders most likely killed Prigozhin. The president of the United States, Joe Biden, said after hearing the news that "there is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind."
In the Ukraine they interpreted Prigozhin's death as a "warning" to the Russian elites. “It is obvious that Putin does not forgive anyone... The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin (...) is a signal from Putin to the Russian elites before the 2024 elections. Beware! Disloyalty equals death”, Mikhailo Podoliak, adviser to President Volodimir Zelensky, wrote on the social network X (former Twitter).
Different versions of what happened were discussed on Russian Telegram channels, including a bomb attack, a surface-to-air missile or a Ukrainian drone.
It is true that external intervention is one of the lines of investigation followed by the Investigation Committee, but it is not the priority. According to the RBK newspaper, the investigators are also studying the possibility of pilot failure or that the plane had suffered a technical problem.