Global reaction to possible death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin

Russia’s ministry for emergency situations announces crash of a private plane travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, saying Wagner chief Prigozhin was on the passenger list.

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed north of Moscow, killing all 10 passengers, the Russian authorities said.

It remains to be confirmed if the Wagner chief had actually boarded the flight.

Since the rebellion by Wagner forces in June, Prigozhin has been seen as the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he came to power.

Here is how the world reacted to the crash and the reported death of Prigozhin:

US: Biden ‘not surprised’

President Joe Biden says he was “not surprised” at news that Prigozhin may have died in a plane crash in Russia.

“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised,” Biden said, adding: “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”

In a statement, US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson also said that “if confirmed, no one should be surprised”, by the apparent death. “The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now — it would seem — to this.”

France: ‘Reasonable doubts’ over Prigozhin plane crash

Paris said that there were “reasonable doubts” about the cause of the plane crash that presumably killed Prigozhin.

“We don’t yet know the circumstances of this crash. We can have some reasonable doubts,” government spokesperson Olivier Veran told France 2 television.

Asked about US President Joe Biden’s comments, Veran agreed that “as a general rule, that’s a truth that can be established”.

Prigozhin was “the man who did Putin’s dirty work. What he has done is inseparable from the policies of Putin, who gave him responsibility to carry out abuses as the head of Wagner”, he said.

“Prigozhin leaves behind him mass graves. He leaves behind him messes across a large part of the globe, I’m thinking of Africa, Ukraine and Russia itself.”

Ukraine: ‘Worth waiting for the fog of war to disappear’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told journalists with Interfax-Ukraine news agency that Ukraine was not behind the crash. “We had nothing to do with it. Everybody realises who has something to do with it”.

Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak wrote on social media that the crash of the plane was a signal from the Kremlin to anyone who showed disloyalty but that it was “worth waiting for the fog of war to disappear” before making concrete conclusions.

“The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections. ‘Beware! Disloyalty equals death'”, Podolyak wrote.

Estonia: Putin will ‘eliminate opponents’

Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, in an interview with CNN, said Putin will “eliminate opponents and that scares anyone who is thinking of expressing opinion different than his”.

Poland: Putin’s opponents ‘do not die naturally’

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told state news channel TVP Info, “We would have great trouble naming anyone who would intuitively think this was a coincidence. It so happens that political opponents whom Vladimir Putin considers a threat to his power do not die naturally.”

UK: ‘Avoid jumping to conclusions’

Schools Minister Nick Gibb says the government must “avoid jumping to conclusions” over the plane crash in Russia that reportedly killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

He said the government is monitoring the situation closely and working with its allies.

“I can’t go any further at the moment,” he added. “But of course, the government will have more to say once our assessment of it has happened, and conversations with allies reach clear conclusions.”

BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, posted on the social media platform X that UK defence sources had told the British state broadcaster that the Russian federal security service most likely brought the plane down.

Germany: ‘No accident’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock initially warned against speculation over the crash of the plane, which authorities said was carrying Prigozhin.

“No quick conclusions can be drawn,” she told Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday.

However, she later said the presumed death of Prigozhin follows a pattern of “unclarified” fatalities in Russia, adding that it was no coincidence that the focus has turned to the Kremlin for answers.

“It is no accident that the world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former confidant of Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he attempted a mutiny,”  Baerbock said, referring to the Russian president.

“We know this pattern in Putin’s Russia: deaths, dubious suicides, falls from windows, all which remain unclarified – that underlines a dictatorial power system that is built on violence,” she said at a news conference with the Kyrgyz foreign minister.

Sweden: ‘Unclear’ what crash means for Russia

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom stated that it remained “unclear” what the crash meant for Russia and the war in Ukraine.

He added that Sweden and its international partners were following the incident closely.

Lithuania: Prigozhin’s death makes ‘little difference’

Lithuania’s president said the presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin does not improve regional security.

“We really shouldn’t think that Prigozhin’s death makes us feel calmer or that it somehow improves the security situation,” Gitanas Nauseda said.

He added that even if confirmed it “makes little difference” to regional security.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies