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Vladimir Putin breaks silence on mercenary Prigozhin's death, offers condolences

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the people who died when a jet carrying Wagner Mercenary Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin went down over the Russian province of Tver, killing all 10 people onboard. Photo by Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the people who died when a jet carrying Wagner Mercenary Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin went down over the Russian province of Tver, killing all 10 people onboard. Photo by Kremlin

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences Thursday to the families of those who died Wednesday when a private jet carrying Wagner Mercenary Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin came down over the Russian province of Tver, reportedly killing 10 people.

"As for the plane crash, first of all I want to express sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It is always a tragedy," Putin said during a meeting with the leader of the internationally unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin.

Prigozhin rose from a petty criminal who served 12 years for armed robbery in the Soviet Union to a hot dog seller who made his fortune in the restaurant and catering business during the tumultuous years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

During Putin's rule, Prigozhin became a major contractor providing food services to the Russian military.

In 2014, during the first Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Prigozhin established the Wagner group as a private auxiliary force to support pro-Russian separatists. Over the following decade, Wagner forces were deployed on multiple continents and implicated in a variety of war crimes, including the 2017 torture and murder of a civilian in Syria who had refused to serve in the army of dictator Bashar al Assad.

Prigozhin posted a video of himself, ostensibly in Africa, shortly before his death in Russia Wednesday. File Photo by Razgruzka Vagnera /UPI
Prigozhin posted a video of himself, ostensibly in Africa, shortly before his death in Russia Wednesday. File Photo by Razgruzka Vagnera /UPI

Putin described Prigozhin as a complicated figure and implied that the working relationship between the Russian state and the mercenary leader was mutually beneficial.

"Since the start of the '90s, he was an individual with a difficult fate. He both made serious mistakes in life and achieved the results necessary for him for the common cause when I asked him, like in the recent months," Putin said.

Footage posted to a Wagner-linked Telegram channel showed Prigozhin's plane falling out of the sky. Photo courtesy of Gray Zone
Footage posted to a Wagner-linked Telegram channel showed Prigozhin's plane falling out of the sky. Photo courtesy of Gray Zone

Prigozhin was killed two months after leading a failed mutiny against the Russian Ministry of Defense, taking over the city of Rostov on Don, which is home to the headquarters of Russia's Southern Military District.

During the mutiny, Wagner forces headed toward Moscow, prompting local authorities to construct barriers on roads.

In June, Wagner fighters mutinied and briefly took over the city of Rostov-on-Don, which is home to the headquarters of Russia's southern military district. File Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/UPI
In June, Wagner fighters mutinied and briefly took over the city of Rostov-on-Don, which is home to the headquarters of Russia's southern military district. File Photo by Arkady Budnitsky/UPI

Wagner fighters shot down multiple Russian military aircraft, killing over a dozen military personnel during the mutiny.

In his comments, Putin made references to Wagner's deployment in Africa, where they are known to provide support for the government of Mali and Burkina Faso.

In 2022, Wagner forces participated in the massacre of hundreds of Malian villagers in the Moura.

"He was a talented person, talented businessman. He worked with a result not only in our country, but abroad, in Africa specifically. He was dealing there with gas, oil, and precious gems. As I found out, he returned from Africa just yesterday. He was meeting there with certain officials," Putin said.

The Russian president said an investigation was already ongoing.

"The leader of the investigative committee reported to me this morning that they already started a preliminary investigation of this incident, and it will be conducted in full," Putin said.