Putin sends condolences to Prigozhin’s family

Updated Aug 24, 2023, 3:42pm EDT
Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
Diego Mendoza/

Russian President Vladimir Putin broke his silence Thursday on the suspected death of Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In a televised speech, Putin sent condolences to the families of Prigozhin and other passengers on board the private plane that crashed in Russia on Wednesday.

Putin called Prigozhin a “talented businessman” that had made “serious mistakes.”

“This was a person with a complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in life, but also sought to achieve the necessary results, both for himself and at time when I asked him to, for the common cause, such as in these recent months,” Putin said.

U.S. intelligence is conflicted about what caused the plane crash. Two anonymous officials told Reuters Thursday that a surface-to-air missile originating in Russia took down the plane.1 But other U.S. intelligence reports obtained by the New York Times suggests that the leading theory is that some bomb or device inside the plane caused the explosion.2 The Pentagon later said that initial intelligence suggests Prigozhin is dead, but that they assessed information about a surface-to-air missile attack as "inaccurate."

"There is no mutual trust among Russia’s elite, no true shared ideology beyond self-interest, and no wonder,"3 writes Anne Applebaum for the Atlantic. But unlike many anti-Kremlin critics over the years who have died under mysterious conditions, Prigozhin "helped create Putin" and his kleptocracy. He enjoyed massive support from many close to the Kremlin, which is why Putin needed something more "spectacular" like a plane crash "to terrify anyone who secretly wished for Prigozhin’s victory," she writes.

For China,"Prigozhin’s demise might be a confidence-booster"4 writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. That is because, paradoxically, there is less risk of escalation in Ukraine with Prigozhin out of the picture, he argues. China has been a critical supplier of military technology to Russia but has had doubts of its extensive commitment in recent months over Russia's staying power in the region.

"The Wagner Group is in effect decapitated,"5 writes Bloomberg opinion columnist Andreas Kluth. The real telling of how this will all play out will be in Africa, Kluth says, where dictators and warlords have relied on Wagner troops for their own power-seeking operations. But without a respected leader, it remains unclear how the group will continue to reliably function. This muddies Putin's own motives of using Wagner troops to drive American and European companies out of Africa and push Africans to flee towards the European Union "which Putin so despises."