A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Kremlin had nothing to do with the plane crash that apparently killed mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin and his group started a mutiny in Russia in June, The Associated Press reported.
U.S. intelligence indicated that the plane that Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on had an initial explosion before crashing, adding that Prigozhin was “very likely” targeted and that it went along with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics.” Officials didn’t give specifics about the explosion.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said during a conference call, that, “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. Of course, in the West those speculations are put out under a certain angle, and all of it is a complete lie.”
When asked by the AP if Prigozhin was confirmed dead, Peskov referred to Putin’s statement from earlier in the day, “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.”
The New York Times reported that when referencing Prigozhin, Putin spoke of him in the past tense, seemingly confirming his death.
“This was a person with a complicated fate. He made some serious mistakes in life, but he also achieved necessary results,” Putin said, according to the newspaper.
The Times likened other comments to a eulogy, with Putin saying he had known the mercenary since the early 1990s, saying, “He was a talented person, a talented businessman. He worked not only here in our country, and got results, but also abroad, in particular in Africa.”
CNN and the AP The jet that was said to be carrying Prigozhin, six other members of the Wagner group — including Prigozhin’s second-in-command, a logistics chief and a possible bodyguard — and three crewmembers, crashed shortly after take-off from Moscow en route to St. Petersburg.
It had climbed to 28,000 feet before it stopped transmitting location signals, flying for about half an hour, CNN reported.
“Upon freefall, the Embraer plane wreckage broke apart across a 2 km area away from the village [Kuzhenkino] where most of the fuselage wreckage was found,” Russian state media reported, according to CNN. “The majority of the wreckage fell near agricultural enterprises.”
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but some believe the plane was shot down with video captured supposedly showing the plane missing one of its wings. The authenticity of the video has not been confirmed, according to CNN.
The New York Times analyzed the flight data and the video in question and said that the plane likely had “at least one catastrophic midair event several minutes before the jet crashed,” adding, that it pointed “to an explosion or sudden breaking apart of the aircraft rather than a mechanical “failure.