The White House said Monday it is “increasingly confident” that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin died in last week’s plane crash in Russia.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked whether the White House was any closer to determining what brought down “Prigozhin’s plane.”
“We are increasingly confident that Prigozhin died in the plane crash that took place on August 23rd this past Wednesday,” Jean-Pierre said. “I don’t have any new assessment on that for you, so I’ll just leave it there.”
Jean-Pierre’s comments come a day after the Russian Investigative Committee said genetic testing on the 10 bodies recovered at the crash site confirmed the identities of all of those listed on board the doomed flight – including Prigozhin and some of his top lieutenants.
The Investigative Committee did not indicate what might have caused the business jet to plummet from the sky halfway between Moscow and Prigozhin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
The deadly crash came two months after Prigozhin, 62, spearheaded a daylong mutiny against Russia’s military, leading his Wagner mercenary troops from Ukraine toward Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried the act as “treason” and vowed punishment for those involved.
Instead, the Kremlin – much to the world’s surprise – cut a deal with Prigozhin to end the armed revolt, saying he would be allowed to walk free without facing any charges and to resettle in Belarus. Questions remained about whether the former ally of Russia’s leader would face a comeuppance for the brief uprising that posed the biggest challenge to Putin’s authority during his 23-year rule.
A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that an intentional explosion caused the plane to go down, fueling suspicions that Putin was the chief architect.
One of the Western officials who described the initial assessment said it determined that Prigozhin was “very likely” targeted and that an explosion would be in line with Putin’s “long history of trying to silence his critics.”
The fate of Wagner, which until recently played a prominent role in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine and was involved in a number of African and Middle Eastern countries, is uncertain.