Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin “a man of complicated destiny” a day after a plane believed to be carrying the mercenary leader crashed in Russia’s Tver Oblast, killing everyone onboard.
“I have known Prigozhin for a long time, since the 1990s. He made some serious mistakes in life, but he also achieved the necessary results for himself but also for the greater good when I asked him. He was a talented man, a talented businessman,” Putin said.
Discussing Prigozhin’s role in Ukraine, Putin said the Wagner mercenary force “made a significant contribution to the fight against nazism in Ukraine.”
While Prigozhin is presumed to be dead, it has not been officially confirmed by Russian authorities. According to TASS, Putin said “forensic examinations” were being conducted. Russia’s Air Transport Authority said 10 people were listed as being on the plane, including Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, a Wagner commander who is believed to be a co-founder of the mercenary group.
Putin said that Prigozhin had returned to Russia from Africa earlier in the day on Wednesday before the crash. Earlier this week, a video of Prigozhin where he appeared to be in Africa was posted on Telegram. It was said to be Prigozhin’s first video address since his short-lived mutiny against the Russian military establishment in June.
The plane that crashed had departed from Moscow and was headed to St. Petersburg, Prigozhin’s hometown, where an unofficial memorial for him and Utkin was set up on Thursday.
The cause of the crash is unclear and has become the subject of speculation, with US officials making conflicting claims to the media. Unnamed US officials told Reuters that it was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile launched inside Russia, while other US officials told The New York Times that it was likely downed by an explosion that could have been caused by a bomb planted on the aircraft.