Putin offers ‘condolences’ after presumed death of Yevgeny Prigozhin

Putin says Prigozhin was a ‘talented’ person who made ‘serious mistakes’ but achieved the right results.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed condolences over the plane crash that presumably killed Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Crash investigators have still to conclusively identify the remains of the 10 people believed to have died in Wednesday’s disaster northwest of Moscow, and Putin said the examination would take time.

“As for the aviation tragedy, first of all, I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It’s always a tragedy,” Putin said in televised remarks on Thursday.

“I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early ’90s. He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life, but he achieved the right results,” Putin added.

He mentioned Prigozhin’s work in Africa, where Prigozhin claimed to be earlier in the week and where the Wagner group maintains a significant military presence.

“He [Prigozhin] was a talented person, a talented businessman, he worked not only in our country, and achieved results, but also abroad, particularly in Africa. He was involved there with oil, gas, precious metals and stones,” Putin said.

Putin said that if it were confirmed that Wagner members had died in the crash, as preliminary data indicates, then would “like to note that these people made a significant contribution” to Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine and shared a “common cause”.

Authorities said that among those listed as passengers on the plane was Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner’s operations and allegedly served in Russian military intelligence.

Reporting from Moscow, journalist Daniel Hawkins told Al Jazeera that investigators have been interviewing people, looking at security camera footage and working at the site. They have also been looking at “various theories as to how this aircraft came down”.

“Predominantly, the theory Russian media has been discussing is some sort of explosion on board, possibly some sort of explosive device in the chassis of the aircraft which broke off the aircraft’s wing,” he said.

Ongoing tensions

The crash occurred exactly two months after Prigozhin led a mutiny against Russia’s army leadership, an act of rebellion that Putin at the time condemned as a treacherous “stab in the back”.

But the revolt was quickly defused with a deal. The Kremlin said that in order to avert bloodshed, Prigozhin and some of his fighters would leave for Belarus and a criminal case against him for armed mutiny would be dropped.

For weeks, confusion surrounded the implementation of the deal, the status of Prigozhin and his whereabouts. The Kremlin said he attended a meeting with Putin five days after the mutiny.

On July 5, state TV said an investigation against him was still being pursued, and broadcast footage showed cash, passports, weapons and other items it said were seized in a raid on one of his properties.

Two weeks later, a video appeared to show Prigozhin welcoming his fighters to Belarus. At the end of the month, he was photographed in St Petersburg while a Russia-Africa summit was taking place in the city.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies