Russian state media appears to have one goal in the aftermath of the plane crash that reportedly killed the head of Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s founder Dmitry Utkin, and their associates on Wednesday: to deflect any blame away from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday, state media network Rossiya-24 referenced a criminal investigation that was opened by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, citing “potential violations of air transportation safety and operation rules” that may have caused the crash.
The most popular star of Russian state television, Vladimir Solovyov, likewise did his best to divert the focus from the most likely beneficiary of the incident—even going so far as to claim that Putin had nothing to gain from Prigozhin’s demise. During his show Full Contact Thursday morning, Solovyov complained about the Western media’s coverage that described the incident as “Putin’s revenge.”
“Prigozhin and Wagner did not present any threat to the Kremlin! None at all... They presented a colossal threat for the European countries! I’m trying to figure out who might have benefited from it. The very last person it would benefit is Putin!” he said. “Putin gave a word, he forgave all of them... Putin was never known not to keep his word! He is a man of his reputation… all about the laws,” he insisted.
Although he conceded that Prigozhin’s “march on Moscow” was indeed a “stab in the back” of the Russian president, the host brushed off any possibility of a revenge killing, asserting, “We’re not a gang! We are not the mafia! This is not Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather. We are a nation of laws!”
Solovyov ticked off other “suspects” he claimed could be behind the incident. He alleged that NATO countries benefit from Prigozhin’s demise “to a colossal degree,” because they want to undermine Russia’s military capabilities in Africa.
The next alleged beneficiary named by Solovyov was, of course, Ukraine: “For Ukraine, this is a major celebration! Yesterday, the Ukrainian segment of the internet exploded in total happiness!” The host pointed out that if any remnants of an explosive device on board the plane are found in the future, Ukraine would likely acknowledge its involvement. “For them, Prigozhin is target number one!” he said, suggesting that Ukrainians blew up Prigozhin to mark their Independence Day on Thursday.
When a female audience member challenged his conspiracy theory by stating that an operation of this magnitude was too complex to have been organized by the Ukrainians, Solovyov exploded in rage, spewing insults and vulgarities at her. Describing the commentator as a “fantastic fool,” Solovyov asked, “How hard is it to sneak a bomb on board? It is the simplest thing there is… I’m so sick of fools writing to me! I hate cretins! I just hate them!” He referred to multiple other viewers writing into the show as “degenerates” and refused to address their commentary.
Solovyov then accused Western media outlets of attempting to shift the blame from the real perpetrators responsible for the crash, just to screw over Putin. “The Anglo-Saxons are undoubtedly behind this crime!” he fumed. Solovyov went on to name France, Poland, the Baltic states, and NATO countries in general as other likely beneficiaries of the incident. “This does not benefit Russia at all!” he reiterated.
Just one day before the fatal crash, Solovyov had been complaining that Russia’s main weakness is its failure to retaliate against those who cause it harm: “We aren't retaliating for anything!” One of the grievances he brought up specifically pertained to Prigozhin: “Fifteen pilots have perished during a mutiny! So? Who answered for them? No one!” he said.
In the aftermath of the short-lived mutiny back in June, Solovyov and his guests on The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov were aghast that the Wagner chief was allowed to live after his march on Moscow. State Duma member Andrey Gurulyov, retired deputy Commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District, said that “traitors have to be destroyed” and urged Prigozhin and Utkin to commit suicide before a bullet finds them. “There are no other options for traitors,” he stressed.
In July, Eduard Petrov, who heads the Legal Programs Production Service, insisted that criminal investigations against Prigozhin were far from over, while various state media outlets portrayed Prigozhin and the Wagnerites as a bunch of unsavory characters, convicted of a plethora of shameful crimes.
Despite that earlier stance, Solovyov claimed there was no coordinated media campaign to besmirch Prigozhin, referring to him as “Hero of Russia.” He called on Wagner fighters to take Kyiv “in honor of Prigozhin,” and urged viewers to consider who benefits from Prigozhin’s death, naming the French, Americans, and Ukrainians as the most likely culprits.
The weatherman, Evgeny Tishkovets, then chimed in with his own theory about the plane crash. He blamed the weather.