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Kremlin denies role in plane crash believed to have killed Russian mercenary leader Prigozhin

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Moscow, Aug 25 (AP): President Vladimir Putin’s
spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, on Friday rejected
allegations that the Kremlin was behind a plane crash that
is presumed to have killed mercenary leader Yevgeny
Prigozhin, whose brutal fighters were feared in Ukraine,
Africa and Syria and conducted a brief but shocking
mutiny in Russia two months ago.
Prigozhin, who was listed among those on board the plane,
was eulogised by Putin, even as suspicions grew that the
Russian leader was behind a Wednesday crash that many
saw as an assassination.
A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded that
the plane was downed by an intentional explosion.
One of the US and Western officials who described the
initial US assessment said it determined that Prigozhin
was “very likely” targeted and that the explosion falls in
line with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his
critics.”
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
because they were not authorised to comment, did not
offer any details about what caused the explosion, which
was widely believed to be vengeance for the mutiny in
June that posed the biggest challenge to the Russian
leader’s 23-year rule.
“Right now, of course, there are lots of speculations
around this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the
passengers of the plane, including Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Peskov told reporters during a conference call.

”Of course, in the West those speculations are put out under a certain angle, and all of it is a complete lie,”

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Asked by The Associated Press whether the Kremlin has
received an official confirmation of Prigozhin’s death,
Peskov referenced Putin’s remarks from a day earlier: “He
said that right now all the necessary forensic analyses,
including genetic testing, will be carried out. Once some
kind of official conclusions are ready to be released, they
will be released.”
Britain’s defence ministry said on Friday that the
presumed death of Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny
Prigozhin in a plane crash could destabilise the Wagner
Group,
“The demise of Prigozhin almost certainly would have a
deeply destabilising effect on the Wagner Group. His
personal attributes of hyperactivity, exceptional audacity,
a drive for results and extreme brutality permeated
Wagner and are unlikely to be matched by any successor,”
the ministry wrote in a statement.
Wagner mercenaries were key elements of Russia’s forces
in its war in Ukraine, particularly in the monthslong fight
to take the city of Bakhmut, the conflict’s most grueling
battle. Wagner fighters also have played a central role
projecting Russian influence in global trouble spots, first
in Africa and then in Syria.
“When it comes to the future (of Wagner), I can’t tell you
anything — I don’t know,” Peskov said.
The jet crashed Wednesday soon after taking off from
Moscow, carrying Prigozhin, six other Wagner members,
and a crew of three, according to Russia’s civil aviation
authority.
Rescuers found 10 bodies, and Russian media cited
anonymous sources in Wagner who said Prigozhin was
dead. But there has been no official confirmation.

President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters Wednesday,
said he believed Putin was likely behind the crash.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not
surprised,” Biden said. “There’s not much that happens in
Russia that Putin’s not behind.”
The passenger manifest also included Prigozhin’s second-
in-command, whose nom de guerre became the group’s
name, as well as Wagner’s logistics chief and at least one
possible bodyguard.
It was not clear why several high-ranking members of
Wagner, including top leaders who are normally
exceedingly careful about their security, would have been
on the same flight. The purpose of their trip to St.
Petersburg was unknown.
Russian authorities have said the cause of the crash is
under investigation.
In this first comments on the crash, Putin said the
passengers had “made a significant contribution” to the
fighting in Ukraine.
“We remember this, we know, and we will not forget,” he
said in a televised interview with the Russian-installed
leader of Ukraine’s partially occupied Donetsk region,
Denis Pushilin.
Putin recalled that he had known Prigozhin since the early
1990s and described him as “a man of difficult fate” who
had “made serious mistakes in life, and he achieved the
results he needed — both for himself and, when I asked
him about it, for the common cause, as in these last
months. He was a talented man, a talented businessman.”
Russian state media have not covered the crash
extensively, instead focusing on Putin’s Thursday remarks
to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg via video link and
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sergei Mironov, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Fair Russia
party and former chairman of the upper house of the
Russian parliament, said on his Telegram channel that
Prigozhin had “messed with too many people in Russia,
Ukraine and the West.”
“It now seems that at some point, his number of enemies
reached a critical point,” Mironov wrote.
Numerous opponents and critics of Putin have been killed
or gravely sickened in apparent assassination attempts,
and US and other Western officials long expected the
Russian leader to go after Prigozhin, despite promising to
drop charges in a deal that ended the June 23-24 mutiny.
Prigozhin was long outspoken and critical of how Russian
generals were waging the war in Ukraine, where his
mercenaries were some of the fiercest fighters for the
Kremlin.
For a long time, Putin appeared content to allow such
infighting, but Prigozhin’s brief revolt raised the ante.
His mercenaries swept through the southern Russian city
of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters
there without firing a shot.
They then drove to within about 200 kilometres (125
miles) of Moscow and downed several military aircraft,
killing more than a dozen Russian pilots.
Putin first denounced the rebellion as “treason” and a
“stab in the back," but soon made a deal that saw an end to
the mutiny in exchange for an amnesty for Prigozhin and
his mercenaries and permission for them to move to
Belarus.
Now, many are suggesting the punishment has finally
come. (AP)

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