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Pentagon terms missile shooting on Wagner boss plane ‘inaccurate’

US Department of Defense Press Secretary Patrick Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon on August 22, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia. — AFP
US Department of Defense Press Secretary Patrick Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon on August 22, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia. — AFP

The United States Department of Defence does not believe any missile launched from the ground had hit the plane of the Russian private military company Wagner in which at least ten people were killed including the boss of the mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Defense spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder called it “inaccurate” saying the Pentagon has no information pointing towards the theories of a surface-to-air missile used to shoot the jet Embraer aircraft in the Tver region, north of Moscow.

Ryder said he could not offer any information on what was the cause behind the crash that occurred Wednesday. However, he said that the US believed that Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in the incident.

“Our assessment, based on a variety of factors, is that he was likely killed,” said Ryder.

Vladimir Putin breaks silence

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time since the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prighozin, offering condolences to the families of those killed in the plane crash.

This grab taken on June 24, 2023, shows Yevgeny Prigozhin (C) speaking with Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseev (R) and Russian Defense Deputy Minister Yunus-Bek Evkurov (L) inside the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in the city of Rostov-on-Don. — AFP
This grab taken on June 24, 2023, shows Yevgeny Prigozhin (C) speaking with Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseev (R) and Russian Defense Deputy Minister Yunus-Bek Evkurov (L) inside the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in the city of Rostov-on-Don. — AFP

In his televised address Thursday, Vladimir Putin termed the crash as a tragedy, a day after the Wagner Group boss was confirmed dead. The plane was headed to St. Petersburg from Moscow.

“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 said.

The crash took place two months after Prigozhin led a mutiny against the top leadership of Moscow, challenging 70-year-old Putin’s long authority. It failed a day later.

This photograph shows Russias President Vladimir Putin attending a meeting with the head of the Kherson region of Ukraine, in Moscow, on August 24, 2023. — AFP
This photograph shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attending a meeting with the head of the Kherson region of Ukraine, in Moscow, on August 24, 2023. — AFP

Russia’s third-time President also said the Wagner boss had made a “significant contribution” to Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

They had shared a common cause, Putin said, adding: “We remember that, we know that, and we will not forget that.”

In an address to citizens during the rebellion on June 23-24, Putin had called Prigozhin a “traitor”.

Authorities in Russia initiated an investigation into the matter however, there are widespread speculations about assassination.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky clarified his country’s position saying Kyiv had nothing to do with it. “I think everyone knows who this concerns,” he added, indicating to Putin.

US, others imply Vladimir Putin behind killing

Western leaders expressed doubts that the crash had been an accident as US President Joe Biden was of the view that “there’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.”

France saw “reasonable doubts” about the crash, while Germany said it followed a pattern of “unclarified” fatalities in Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock appeared to say it was suspicious that “a disgraced former confidant of Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he attempted a mutiny”.

Russia’s aviation authority published the names of those on board the Embraer private jet late Wednesday.

It included Prigozhin and his right-hand man, Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner’s operations and allegedly served in Russian military intelligence.

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