Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that grenade fragments were found on the bodies of victims of the plane crash that killed Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary company that helped Russia invade Ukraine.
According to the Associated Press, President Putin said this at the plenary session of the Valdai International Debate Club, an international gathering of Russian experts held in Sochi, Russia, on the 5th (local time), referring to the results of the investigation into the plane crash on which Prigozhin was aboard.
President Putin said he had recently received a report from the chairman of the investigation committee for the crashed plane, Prigozhin, and said, “Fragments of grenades were found on the bodies of those who died in the crash. “There was no external impact on the plane, a fact established through the investigation of the Russian Investigative Committee,” he explained.
Although the cause of the accident was not clearly explained, it was implied that an explosion may have occurred. President Putin also announced that thousands of Wagner Group mercenaries have signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense and are scheduled to participate in combat.
Previously, Russian authorities confirmed that Prigozhin died in a private plane crash on August 23 (local time). There is speculation in the West that Putin may have been involved in some way in his death.
Prigozhin, who was called ‘Putin’s chef’, is from St. Petersburg, the same hometown as President Putin. As a youth, he was in and out of prison on charges of theft, robbery, and fraud. In 1981, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for robbery and assault, and served 9 years.
After being released from prison, he started selling hot dogs at a street vendor with his family, and as the business went well, he made a lot of money. In the process, they became close to President Putin as he enjoyed visiting Prigozhin’s restaurant.
Prigozhin earned the nickname ‘Putin’s chef’ as he was in charge of President Putin’s dinners and banquets held at the Kremlin Palace. President Putin trusted Prigozhin, approving a huge budget expenditure to establish a school meal factory.
Afterwards, he was known to have established a public opinion manipulation organization, and this organization was suspected of supporting candidate Donald Trump by exerting influence during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
With the establishment of the mercenary company Wagner Group in 2014, Prigogine began to gain international attention and notoriety.
Wagner Group mercenaries participated in combat operations in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula and the pro-Russian conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and also intervened in civil wars in countries such as Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan. During this process, images of mercenaries brutally torturing people were revealed online.
The Wagner Group fought on the front lines, including being deployed to the Donbas region when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The Wagner Group was also instrumental in helping Russia take control of Bahumut, the biggest battleground in eastern Ukraine.
However, in this process, the conflict between Prigozhin and the Russian Ministry of Defense intensified. Prigozhin also publicly criticized Russian military leaders, including Minister Shoigu, saying that the Russian Ministry of Defense was not providing ammunition support to the Wagner Group on time. In particular, he called for additional support from the Russian Ministry of Defense under the pretext of withdrawing Bakhmut from eastern Ukraine, the biggest battleground in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
In order to suppress this, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered all irregular forces to sign formal contracts with the Ministry of Defense on June 10, but this ended up amplifying the conflict. Prigogine, who refused to renew the contract, staged an armed rebellion on June 23 and advanced into mainland Russia. President Putin defined this as an act of treason and said, “We will respond harshly.”
The Wagner Group, which was heading to Moscow, the capital of Russia, in an armed rebellion, decided to stop the rebellion through the mediation of the President of Belarus. The revolt ended in 36 hours as the Wagner Group decided to withdraw to Belarus, but it dealt a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership.
Prigozhin, who received a promise from President Putin to guarantee his safety as a condition for withdrawal of troops, met with Putin five days after the armed revolt and appeared in St. Petersburg, where the Russia-Africa summit was held, at the end of July.
However, there were many predictions that Putin would eventually get rid of Prigozhin. This is because Putin has maintained his power by eliminating political opponents and traitors. On July 5, Russia’s state-run Rossiya 1 broadcast footage of police special forces raiding the offices and mansion of a business owned by Prigozhin, and then said the investigation into Prigozhin was still ongoing.
In the end, like other opponents who previously clashed with Putin, Prigogine died before he could be condemned through investigation and trial.
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.