Vladimir Putin breaks silence on apparent Yevgeny Prigozhin's death; explosion possibly caused crash

Vladimir Putin breaks silence on apparent Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death; explosion possibly caused crash

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday finally spoke about the apparent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, who is believed to have died a day earlier in a plane crash.

Amid reports that Mr. Prigozhin’s plane may have been brought down by an explosion, Mr. Putin addressed the crash during a TV interview. He called Mr. Prigozhin “a man of a difficult fate” and said the Wagner Group leader made “serious mistakes in life” — an apparent reference to the short-lived Wagner mutiny this summer.

Still, Mr. Putin said the passengers on board the doomed aircraft “made a significant contribution” to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

“We remember this, we know, and we will not forget,” he said in the interview with Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Mr. Prigozhin, a former restaurant owner who became known as “Putin’s chef” because of the Russian leader’s affinity for his food, was one of 10 passengers on the jet that crashed Wednesday while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg. All of them, including other top Wagner Group figures, are presumed dead, though Mr. Prigozhin’s death has not been officially confirmed by Russian authorities.

Mr. Putin said Mr. Prigozhin “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.”

Western analysts warned for months that Mr. Putin would probably seek revenge against Mr. Prigozhin for his June rebellion. That mutiny saw Wagner Group forces march north toward Moscow, demanding that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top officials be replaced.

Mr. Prigozhin blamed Mr. Shoigu and others atop the Kremlin for the country’s military failures in Ukraine and for Moscow’s inability to provide Wagner Group troops with the supplies and weapons they needed to succeed.

Russian authorities have not yet given an official cause for the Wednesday crash.