Russia’s aviation authority has said that Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, was on board a private jet which crashed on Wednesday evening northwest of Moscow with no survivors, Reuters reported.
However, the Kremlin has declined to definitively confirm his death, citing the need to wait for test results.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the families of those killed in the crash on Thursday and spoke of Prigozhin in the past tense, breaking his silence after the incident which occurred exactly two months to the day after Prigozhin led a failed mutiny against army chiefs.
Putin cited “preliminary information” as indicating that Prigozhin and his top associates in the Wagner mercenary group had all been killed and, while praising Prigozhin, said he had also made some “serious mistakes.”
Western politicians and commentators have suggested, without presenting evidence, that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in order to punish him for launching the June 23-34 mutiny against the army’s leadership which also represented the biggest challenge to Putin’s own rule since he came to power in 1999.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the accusation and many others like it were false.
“There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin. Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle,” Peskov told reporters.
“All of this is an absolute lie, and here, when covering this issue, it is necessary to base yourself on facts. There are not many facts yet. They need to be established in the course of investigative actions,” he said.
Speaking after Wagner vowed revenge over the death of its leader, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky denied Ukrainian involvement in the reported death of the Wagner boss in the plane crash near Moscow.
Zelensky denied that his nation was responsible adding that “everyone is aware of who is involved.”
Diplomatic norms disregarded
Earlier on Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had scolded US President Joe Biden for expressing his lack of surprise that Prigozhin had been killed in a plane crash, accusing Biden of disregarding diplomatic norms.
Russian investigators have opened a probe into what happened, but have not yet said what they suspect caused the plane to suddenly fall from the sky northwest of Moscow.
Nor have they officially confirmed the identities of the 10 bodies recovered from the wreckage.
British military intelligence said on Friday there was not yet definitive proof that Prigozhin had been onboard but that it was “highly likely” he was dead.
The Pentagon has said its own initial assessment is that Prigozhin was killed.
Russia’s Baza news outlet, which has good sources among law enforcement agencies, has reported that investigators are focusing on a theory that one or two bombs may have been planted on board the plane.