The Kremlin on Friday vehemently denied blame for the presumed death of mercenary chief Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, dismissing the idea that the Russian government destroyed a business jet allegedly carrying Mr. Prigozhin on board as Western propaganda aimed at smearing President Vladimir V. Putin.
“An absolute lie,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov.
The denials were repeated in various forms throughout the day by Russia’s Foreign Minister, state-controlled broadcasters and Putin’s closest foreign ally, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, President of Belarus. But they would no doubt ring hollow to many people inside and outside Russia who are aware of the Kremlin’s track record of denying — or accusing — actions it has later admitted or been shown to be. executed.
Some European leadersmany western news media and people around Wagner from Mr. Prigozhin paramilitaries have speculated that Mr. Putin had Mr. Prigozhin assassinated in retaliation for his brief mutiny against the Russian military leadership in June. U.S. officials have so far been more cautious about assigning blame, but President Biden said on Thursday: “Not much is happening in Russia that Putin is not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Peskov dismissed suggestions about the cause of the plane crash northwest of Moscow on Wednesday as mere Western speculation. But in the two months following the Wagner Rebellion, many Russians, as well as people abroad, expressed their surprise that Mr. Prigozhin was still alive and free.
The Russian government has not confirmed the identities of those killed on Wednesday, but has said that Mr Prigozhin and Wagner’s top field commander, Dmitri Utkin, were among the ten people listed on the plane’s manifest, that there were ten bodies had been recovered and there were no survivors. Mr Putin spoke of Mr Prigozhin in the past tense on Thursday, saying: “This was a person with a complicated fate.”
U.S. and other Western officials have expressed growing confidence that Mr Prigozhin is dead, and have said there is evidence that an explosion in the plane caused it to fall from the sky and crash northwest of Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, like Mr. Peskov, advised to await the results of the official Russian investigation into the incident on Friday. Investigators said they were analyzing the victims’ DNA for identification and recovered the plane’s flight data recorders.
“I would suggest focusing on the facts and not on what is being said by the Western media,” Mr Lavrov told Russian state media.
Mr Lukashenko, who relies heavily on the political and economic support of his Russian counterpart, said: “Knowing Putin, how scrupulous, prudent and accurate he is, I don’t believe he would do this,” the White House said. Russian state news agency. Belta.
But Mr Lukashenko, who acted as a go-between to end the mutiny in June, said at the time that Mr Putin had raised the possibility in their talks have the mercenary boss killed. He said he had warned Mr Prigozhin that the Russian leader intended to “crush him like a bug.”
Cheerleaders for Putin and his war against Ukraine on Russian state television have paid less attention to the cause of the plane crash than Western media reports. Vladimir Solovyov, a leading talk show host, suggested that Western countries were “somehow” involved in Mr Prigozhin’s death.
As he spoke, images from the front pages of British tabloids flashed onto the screen behind him, with headlines accusing Mr Putin. The Western media and their “agents,” Mr. Solovyov said, “promote an agenda that suits the West.”
Olga Skabeeva, the host of another prominent show, similarly displayed a parade of British, French and Spanish newspapers on her talk show. “The plane crash with Prigozhin is on every newspaper cover, but for some reason the headline is the same on all newspapers: ‘Putin’s Revenge’,” she said. “This is what a free and democratic press looks like. They don’t even change the words – that’s how strict their training manual is.”
Western media, wrote Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, “cannot rationally explain why Putin should oust Prigozhin, who was not a political threat at the time. Therefore, they interpret this as Putin’s irrational hatred of any enemy.”
In fact, many Western analysts have said that in an autocratic system ruled by fear and violence, Mr. Putin appeared weaker because he had not severely punished Mr. Prigozhin. Mr Putin himself said that the only offense he could not forgive was treason.
The Kremlin denies any connection to this kill And attempted homicide from several other Putin enemies that Western governments have concluded were the work of Russian intelligence agencies. Russian media have made these denials – sometimes with sharp remarks about the misfortune that can befall ‘traitors’ – while, without proof, a series of theories float about the responsibility of others.
In 2014, when Russian troops infiltrated and then seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea, Mr Putin and his accomplices first insisted that no Russian forces were present, then admitted it. Soon after, pro-Moscow forces seized control of parts of the eastern Donbas region, starting a civil war; The Kremlin said they were just local separatists and denied any connection evidence soon emerged that Russia instigated, armed and to some extent carried out the insurrection.
For years the government denied the existence of the Wagner group and Mr. Prigozhin denied any connection with it, before both turned their stories around. They also denied a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the US election until Mr. Prigozhin admitted thatat.
And as Putin built up Russian troops on the Ukrainian border in 2021 and early 2022, he and others insisted there was no plan to go to war. Then he invaded, accusing Ukraine of being the aggressor and claiming that the government in Kiev — headed by a democratically elected Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky — was run by Nazis.
In justifying the war, prominent Russians have made baseless claims of genocide against ethnic Russians and of U.S. missiles and bioweapons labs on Ukrainian soil, while denying targeting Ukrainian civilians.
Known for his brutality and effectiveness, Wagner had helped prop up the Kremlin-centered authoritarian governments in Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, then spearheaded Russia’s long, ultimately successful battle for the city Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
But for months, Prigozhin complained on his major social media that the Defense Ministry and military establishment were corrupt, inept, and treacherously undermining the war effort. He said that the military leaders, jealous of his fame and Wagner’s success, withheld the necessary equipment from the mercenaries.
Then came the government’s decision to include mercenaries in the Ministry of Defense, eliminating Wagner’s independence. Mr Prigozhin protested, but Mr Putin sided with the ministry.
The warlord stepped up his public complaints, unwilling to accept that he had lost the political infighting, and came dangerously close to criticizing Mr Putin himself. He even publicly refuted the president’s rationale for war — which Russia has treated as a criminal offense in other cases — saying that Ukraine posed no threat and was not controlled by fascists.
With time running out for Wagner fighters to disband or join the army, Mr Prigozhin began his mutiny in late June, which he said was designed to overthrow the military leadership, not Mr Putin .
Mr Putin signed on Friday a decree requiring paramilitary fighters to take an oath of loyalty to the nation, a step towards bringing the Kremlin under control.
To resolve the uprising two months ago without open warfare, Mr. Lukashenko offered to move Mr. Prigozhin and his fighters to Belarus. Some of them apparently went there, but Mr. Prigozhin was repeatedly seen in St. Petersburg, in Moscow and in Africa.
Mr Lukashenko said on Friday that he was not responsible for ensuring the safety of the Wagner leader.
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