Putin breaks silence on Wagner boss Prigozhin’s death

MOSCOW (Reuters): Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the family of Yevgeny Prigozhin on Thursday, breaking his silence after the mercenary leader’s plane crashed with no survivors two months after he led a mutiny against army chiefs.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington believed a surface-to-air missile originating from inside Russia likely shot down the plane, though they said the information was preliminary and under review. They spoke on condition of anonymity and offered no evidence.

Russian investigators opened a criminal probe but there has been no official word from Moscow on what may have caused Wednesday evening’s crash. Until Putin’s comments there had been no official confirmation of Prigozhin’s death beyond a statement from the aviation authority saying he was on board.

Breaking his silence, Putin described Prigozhin as a talented businessman whom he had known since the 1990s and said the investigation into the crash would take time.

Prigozhin, 62, was head of the Wagner mercenary group and a self-declared enemy of the army top brass over what he said was its incompetent prosecution of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Putin earlier made a virtual statement at a summit of the BRICS nations in South Africa which his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was attending.

Neither referenced the plane crash in which 10 people were said to have been killed.