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Kremlin says it didn’t order Prigozhin’s killing, and won’t confirm his death | CBC News

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The Kremlin said on Friday that Western suggestions that Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had been killed on its orders were an “absolute lie” and declined to definitively confirm his death, citing the need to wait for test results.

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday sent his condolences to Prigozhin’s family, breaking his silence after the mercenary leader’s plane crashed on Wednesday evening with no survivors two months after he led a mutiny against army chiefs.

Putin cited “preliminary information” as indicating that Prigozhin and his top associates in the Wagner mercenary group had been killed.

Russian investigators have opened a probe into what happened, but have not yet said what they suspect caused the plane to suddenly fall from the sky northwest of Moscow.

Nor have they officially confirmed the identities of the 10 bodies recovered from the wreckage.

A flatbed truck is shown transporting a very large item, covered and wrapped in a green tarpaulin.
A truck on Friday transports a part of a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening near the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia’s Tver region. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

‘There are not many facts yet’

Western politicians and commentators have suggested that Putin ordered Prigozhin killed to punish him for launching a failed June 23-34 mutiny against the top brass which represented the biggest challenge to Putin’s rule yet.

In the past, several critics of Putin, including politicians and media figures, have been killed violently or survived mysterious poisoning incidents.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Prigozhin accusation and many others like it were false.

“There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin. Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle,” Peskov told reporters.

A woman reaches over to place flowers at a makeshift memorial. A framed picture of a middle-aged man is shown.
A woman lays flowers at a makeshift memorial set up after the presumed plane crash death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

“All of this is an absolute lie, and here, when covering this issue, it is necessary to base yourself on facts. There are not many facts yet. They need to be established in the course of investigative actions.”

Peskov said that it was important to wait for the results of various tests as well as the outcome of the investigation.

He said Putin had not met Prigozhin recently.

‘Too unprofessional’ for Putin: Lukashenko

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who helped broker a deal after the mutiny to allow Prigozhin and some of his Wagner fighters to go to Belarus, said Friday he believed Putin had nothing to do with the plane crash.

“I know Putin: he is calculating, very calm, even tardy,” Lukashenko said, according to state news agency BELTA. “I cannot imagine that Putin did it, that Putin is to blame. It’s just too rough and unprofessional a job.”

Polish officials said shortly before Prigozhin’s death they estimated that at least 3,000 Wagner members were still in neighbouring Belarus, though the precise number is not clear.

Lukashenko said Wagner members could remain in Belarus.

“Wagner lived, Wagner is living and Wagner will live in Belarus,” he said. “The core remains here.”

Two men wearing blazers and collared shirts are shown in conversation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are shown on July 23 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Lukashenko said Friday that Wagner fighters can remain in Belarus, though it’s not clear how many are there. (Alexander Demianchuk/Sputnik/The Associated Press)

Wagner has waged major battles on Russia’s behalf in Ukraine and fought in civil wars and insurgencies in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali. In Africa, it has taken control of gold mines and oil fields along the way.

“Wagner is a going concern. There are contracts, it is a business, it needs to continue,” John Lechner, an American researcher who is writing a book about Prigozhin, told Reuters this week.

The relationship between Putin and Prigozhin stretches back decades, to when the former was a rising official in St. Petersburg and the latter was a caterer that was a vendor for the government.

Prigozhin would go on to carry out Russian aims in Africa through Wagner, and he also admitted earlier this year to  founding and financing the Internet Research Agency, a company that the U.S. government says is a “troll farm” which meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He was indicted in absentia by a special counsel in the U.S. investigating election interference.

The U.S. Department of Defence on Thursday said there was currently no information to suggest that a surface-to-air missile took down the plane presumed to be carrying Prigozhin.

Air Force Brig.-Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, offered no evidence or further details on what U.S. officials believe caused the crash as he made his remarks at a Pentagon news conference.

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