The Russian government has said called reports attributing the presumed death of Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin to President Vladimir Putin as "absolute lie".
The Russian government has said that it is not involved in the presumed death of Prigozhin, which the US and UK governments have said might take some time to confirm. Putin, meanwhile, indirectly confirmed Prigozhin's death.
Earier, Western news organisations reported that intelligence officials believe that Putin had ordered Prigozhin's killing. Several critis and dissidents have been targeted by the Russian government over the years.
Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a business jet that crashed near Moscow in Russia on Wednesday. Everyone on the plane was reported to have died. Once his death is confirmed, he would become latest in the long line of Russian oligarchs who have died in recent years in mysterious manners. While several people have died suspiciously, Prigozhin is undoutedbly the most popular, particular after is daylong mutiny against the Russian security establishment and march to Moscow.
What did Russian government say?
After reports linked Putin to Yevgeny's death, the Russian government denied any involvement.
"There is a lot of speculation around this disaster, around the tragic death of the passengers on the plane, including Yevgeny Prigozhin. Of course, in the west all these speculations are presented from a certain angle. This is all an absolute lie," said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, as per Guardian.
Putin on Thursday appeared to confirm Prigozhin's death ain an address. He said tha Prigozhin was “talented” but made “serious mistakes in life”.
Speaking about Prigozhin in the past tense, Putin said he hadd known him “for a very long time” and that he was “a talented man, a talented businessman", reported CNN.
“He was a man of difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life, and he achieved the results needed both for himself and when I asked him about it – for a common cause, as in these last months,” said Putin further.
Western agencies link Prigozhin's death to Putin
While the Western agencies have not overtly confirmed the death or the cauxe of death, they have said that there is a high possibility of him dying.
The UK Ministry of Defence on Friday said there is no "definitive proof" that Prigozhin was among the passengers but it is "highly likely" that he is dead.
"The Russian authorities claim 10 people on board died, including Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin...There is not yet definitive proof that Prigozhin was onboard and he is known to exercise exceptional security measures. However, it is highly likely that he is indeed dead," said MoD in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 25 August 2023— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) August 25, 2023
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Western officials have linked to Putin to Prigozhin's killing. The line of thought is that as Prigozhin's mutiny created the most serious crisis in Russia during Putin's two decades of rule, it was only a matter of time before Putin would hit him. In June, Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group has had prominent role in Ukraine War and and delivered Russia some of the most significant victories, mounted a rebellion against the country's defence leadership. The Wagner mercenery column captured the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, which oversees Ukraine War efforts, and reached within 200 kms of Moscow. The mutiny ended in a compromise.
Experts have said that Prigozhin's mutiny brought forth the internal strife in Russia and a struggle of power. They have said that Prigozhin would have never mutinied if he did not have support from inside the Russian government, particularly the internal security establishment. In bringing to the world's knowledge Putin's weakness to control the power struggle around him, he is said by some to have antogonised Putin.
"Western intelligence officials have briefed media that Prigozhin was most likely to have been killed by an explosion onboard the plane on President Putin’s orders," reported Guardian.
The New York Times reported, "Some European leaders, many Western news outlets and people close to Mr. Prigozhin’s Wagner paramilitary force have speculated that Mr. Putin had Mr. Prigozhin killed in retaliation for his brief mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in June."
Even US President Joe Biden also hinted at a possible role of Putin.
"There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer," said Biden