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Pentagon says no indication plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin was brought down by surface-to-air missile

The Pentagon has said there is no indication that a surface-to-air missile brought down the plane presumed to be carrying Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, offered no further details or evidence to explain why intelligence officials had ruled out the theory.

But addressing reports that a missile had taken down the plane, he said: “We assess that information to be inaccurate.”

His remarks came after a preliminary US intelligence assessment found the plane crash was intentionally caused by an explosion.

The Associated Press reports that one anonymous official said that the explosion fell in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s “long history of trying to silence his critics”.

The officials did not offer any details of what caused the explosion presumed to have killed Prigozhin and several of his lieutenants.

Details of the US assessment surfaced as Mr Putin expressed his condolences to the families of those who were reported to be onboard the jet and referred to “serious mistakes”.

The wreckage of a plane is seen at the crash site near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, on August 24, 2023. Russian state-run news agencies on August 23, 2023 said that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group that led a mutiny against Russia's army in June, was on the list of passengers of a plane that crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)
Wreckage from the plane crash outside Tver, north-west of Moscow (Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty)

The founder of the Wagner military group and six other passengers were on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday soon after taking off from Moscow with a crew of three, according to Russia’s civil aviation authority.

Rescuers found 10 bodies, and Russian media cited anonymous sources in Wagner who said Prigozhin was dead, though there has been no official confirmation.

If the deaths are confirmed, the crash would be the most serious blow the group has ever suffered to its leadership.

The passenger manifest included Prigozhin and his second-in-command, Dmitry Utkin, as well as Wagner’s logistics chief, a fighter wounded by US air strikes in Syria and at least one possible bodyguard.

It was not clear why several high-ranking members of Wagner, including top leaders who are normally exceedingly careful about their security, were on the same flight. The purpose of their joint trip to St Petersburg was unknown.

In all, the other passengers included six of Prigozhin’s lieutenants, along with the three-member flight crew.

At Wagner’s headquarters in St Petersburg, lights were turned on in the shape of a large cross, and supporters of Prigozhin built a makeshift memorial, piling red and white flowers outside the building on Thursday, along with company flags and candles.

Mr Putin broke his silence on the crash, expressing condolences to the families of those who were aboard the jet, including Prigozhin.

He said the passengers had “made a significant contribution” to the fighting in Ukraine.

“We remember this, we know, and we will not forget,” the president said in a televised interview with the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s partially occupied Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin.

Mr Putin recalled that he had known Prigozhin since the early 1990s and described him as “a man of difficult fate” who had “made serious mistakes in life, and he achieved the results he needed – both for himself and, when I asked him about it, for the common cause, as in these last months”.

“He was a talented man, a talented businessman,” he added.

Russian state media have not covered the crash extensively, instead focusing on Mr Putin’s remarks to the Brics summit in Johannesburg via video link and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Additional reporting by AP

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