The United States believes Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin may have been killed in a plane crash outside Moscow on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Thursday.
“Again I’m not going to go into the details of how we’re gathering information, our initial assessment based on a variety of factors is that he may have been killed,” Ryder said.
Ryder also said the Pentagon had “no information to indicate at this time” that Prigog’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
Earlier Thursday, four U.S. officials told CNN there were no signs the plane was brought down by a missile.
The US intelligence community is still in the early stages of assessing the cause of the crash. Officials cautioned that it was too early to draw any conclusions, but several possibilities were being evaluated, including whether an explosion on the plane caused the crash.
Another source familiar with Western intelligence echoed US officials, saying there was no sign of a missile launch.
The U.S. has not seen any information that the Embraer Legacy 600 was hit by a surface-to-air missile, which could have been fired from a Russian air defense system, or by an air-to-air missile, officials said. Russian fighter jet.
Those familiar with the intelligence believe that the plane was shot down deliberately and that the aim was to kill Prigozhin. How soon Russian President Vladimir Putin would try to kill the Wagner leader was hotly debated in the days and weeks following the June 24 uprising, a question more than when.
“I don’t know what happened, but I’m not surprised,” President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday.
“There’s not much going on in Russia that Putin isn’t behind,” he added.
Russia’s investigative committee said on Wednesday it had opened a criminal case following the crash. Russian state media reported that Prigozhin was listed as one of eight people on the plane’s passenger manifest.
The private jet crashed 30 minutes after takeoff. According to flight tracking data from FlightRadar24, the jet was leveling off at approximately 28,000 feet when it suddenly began making erratic climbs and descents. At 6:19 p.m. local time, the plane’s rate of descent approached 8,000 feet per minute before the transmission of altitude data ceased, a rapid descent beyond the normal parameters of an aircraft.
The plane, which took off from Moscow airport, was en route to St Petersburg when it crashed south of the city of Tver on Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, Putin expressed his “deepest condolences to the families of all victims” of the crash. He said he had known Prigozhin since the early 90s and that he was a skilled businessman.
“He has a difficult fate, he made serious mistakes in life,” Putin said during a meeting with the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) at the Kremlin. “He achieved the results he needed, when I asked him about it – for a common cause in these last months.”
After leading an armed and apparent — albeit short-lived — rebellion against Putin in late June, Prigozhin publicly warned that he could be killed by the Kremlin.
CIA Director Bill Burns and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken suggested Prigozhin watch his back.
“In my experience, Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback. So I would be surprised if Prigogine retaliates further. So the president’s prerogative in that sense. If I were Prigogine, I wouldn’t fire my taster,” Burns said in July.
“If I were Mr. Prigogine, I would be very concerned. NATO has an open door policy; Russia has an open windows policy,” Blinken said in July.
Some U.S. officials were not surprised when Russian state media reported the crash. Officials did not say the United States had confirmed that Prigozhin was on the plane.
“We all saw him as a dead man walking,” said one American official.