Biden responds to Wagner chief’s alleged plane death and implies Putin involvement: ‘I’m not surprised’

It hasn’t been confirmed whether Prigozhin is alive or dead or even if he boarded the plane

Andrea Cavallier
Wednesday 23 August 2023 20:53 BST
'Not surprised': Joe Biden reacts to Wagner boss Prigozhin's reported death in plane crash

The fate of Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is still unknown after the plane he was reportedly on crashed near Moscow earlier today.

It hasn’t been confirmed whether Prigozhin is dead or if he was even on the plane but many officials, including President Joe Biden, have said his presumed death would not come as a surprise.

“I don’t know for a fact what happened but I’m not surprised,” Biden told reporters in response to the news shortly after being briefed.

When asked if he thought Russian President Valdimir Putin was behind it, the president responded: “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer. I’ve been working out for the last hour and a half.”

Prigozhin is thought to be among 10 people who were killed in the crash.

The plane carrying three pilots and seven passengers was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, according to officials cited by Russia’s state news agency Tass.

Prigozhin was on the passenger list for the plane, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was on board.

Some have speculated that the crash may have been just a plausible excuse for Putin to eliminate a rival.

Although Prigozhin and Putin were formerly close, after the Wagner chief led an uprising against the Kremlin in June, many have speculated about his fate.

Prigozhin is thought to be among the 10 people who were killed in the crash (AP)

"We have seen the reports," National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson wrote in a tweet in response to the news. "If confirmed, no one should be surprised.”

Former US special advisor Mark Voyager told Sky News: "We should not forget that the disappearance or the removal of some of Putin’s enemies over the years have been linked to suspect aircraft crashes.

"It would not be a surprise if Putin has yet again chosen a method that provides some plausible deniability."

Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, said: “Prigozhin caused the biggest shock of Putin’s rule.

“Putin needs to reassert his authority. Those travelling with Prigozhin will be his associates and not neutrals - taking them out actually helps Putin as it reduces his enemies count.

“In short, this was too good an opportunity for Putin not to take.”

As the news about the crash was breaking, Putin spoke at an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk, hailing the heroes of Russia’s ‘the special military operation in Ukraine (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, told CNN: "If true, it shows (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will eliminate opponents and that scares anyone who is thinking of expressing opinion different than his."

British lawmaker Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said on social media platform X: "The speed at which the Russian Govt has confirmed Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know. Reports Russian Air Defence shot down the plane suggests Putin is sending a very loud message."

Prigozhin’s fate has been the subject of intense speculation ever since he mounted a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in late June.

The Kremlin said the founder of the Wagner private military company, which fought alongside Russia’s regular army in Ukraine, would be exiled to Belarus.

But the mercenary chief has since reportedly popped up in Russia, leading to further questions about his future.

As the news about the crash was breaking, Putin spoke at an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk, hailing the heroes of Russia’s "the special military operation" in Ukraine.

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