Putin sends “condolences” to families of plane crash victims, singles out Prigozhin

August 24, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday offered condolences to the families of those who died in a plane crash outside Moscow Wednesday, singling out Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was believed to have been on board.

Prigozhin was on the private plane’s list of seven passengers and three crew, which was en route from Moscow to St Petersburg, according to Russian news agency TASS.

In his first televised remarks since the crash, Putin praised Prigozhin as a talented businessman and added that he wished to express sincere condolences to the families of those who died, according to a translation by Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko.

Putin also noted that “primary information suggests that employees of Wagner PMC were there as well.” 

“I would like to emphasize that these were people who made a significant contribution to a common goal—the struggle against the Neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine,” Putin went on to say on the same day that Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day.

The cause of the crash has not been confirmed, but some residents of a nearby village have said they heard an explosion before seeing the jet plummet to the ground. 

Prigozhin was last seen publicly in a video posted Monday in which he claimed to be in Africa.

It was the first footage from Prigozhin since July, when he posted a nighttime video appearing to welcome his fighters to Belarus. That was following Wagner’s brief uprising against Russian military brass, which  began on Friday, June 23 when Prigozhin marched his columns of mercenaries into the Russian city of Rostov near Ukraine’s front lines. Prigozhin said his fighters “blockaded” the town “without firing a single shot.”

It ended the next day, after that deal was struck by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, which stipulated that Prigozhin’s mercenaries would receive immunity, and that charges brought against Prigozhin himself would be dropped, once he turned his columns away from their subsequent march toward Moscow. Before turning back, some 8,000 of Prigozhin’s mercenaries had come within 125 kilometers of the capital city.

Prigozhin, a hot dog vendor once upon a time, rose to power as “Putin’s Chef” for his close ties to Putin and his role as a caterer to the Kremlin. In 2014 he founded Wagner and deployed his mercenaries in support of Moscow’s allies in countries including Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. The U.S. has sanctioned the mercenary organization and accused it of atrocities, which Prigozhin denied.

“I knew Prigozhin for a long time, since the early 90s,” Putin noted in his televised message. “He had a difficult fate, he made serious mistakes in his life. And he achieved the necessary results both for himself and when I asked him to do so for the common goal, as happened in recent months.”

PHOTO: Wreckage of crashed plane with Prigozhin on passenger list

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