Vladimir Putin probably approved Yevgeny Prigozhin’s killing, say US, UK

Early assessments by the US indicate that the death in a plane crash of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was an assassination that probably was approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to American officials.

 The officials, who discussed the preliminary appraisal on condition of anonymity, said the plane that crashed en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg may have been destroyed by a bomb on board, not a surface-to-air missile.

The UK also is working on the assumption the plane was brought down deliberately, although the exact cause of the crash is still not clear, an official there said. Russia’s investigation appears to be examining the theory of a bomb on the plane, they said.
In Putin’s first comments on the crash, the Russian president said on state TV Thursday that “preliminary information says that some Wagner employees were there.”

Expressing condolences and referring to Prigozhin in the past tense, Putin described a “talented businessman” but “a man with a complicated fate” who “made serious mistakes in life.”

Prigozhin’s downfall came after he led a failed mutiny in June against Putin’s military leaders that threatened the president’s grip on power. Putin had denounced the rebellion as “treason,” but Prigozhin had appeared to escape immediate retaliation by the Kremlin under a deal brokered to end the revolt as his fighters came within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of Moscow. Wagner mercenaries fought for Russia in Ukraine, and the company still has extensive operations in the Middle East and Africa. 

“The question about whether Putin did indeed issue the order to dispatch Prigozhin is immaterial in terms of its implications,” said Beth Sanner, former deputy director of US National Intelligence. “Everyone will believe that he did so.”
“The risk of insubordination inside the military has disappeared,” she said. General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei “Shoigu, who were the main objects of Prigozhin’s mutiny, are wielding more power than ever,” she added.

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