Biden accuses Putin of masterminding Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death
U.S. president Joe Biden on Wednesday pointed accusing fingers at his Russian conterpart, Vladimir Putin, regarding the alleged death of Russian mercenary chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin died in a plane crash Wednesday evening, according to Russian authorities, and Biden was quoted to have said he was not surprised by reports of his sudden death, adding that not much happens in Russia that Putin is not behind.
Reuters reported that analysts said the incident could be a way for Putin to warn others who might betray him or to show his support to the Russian military, whom Prigozhin undermined with an abortive armed mutiny in June.
Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening north of Moscow with no survivors, according to Russian authorities.
Reuters said it still could not confirm that he was on the aircraft by Thursday, though a Telegram channel linked to Wagner pronounced him dead.
The White House said Biden had been briefed on the crash and he told reporters he did not know for a fact what had happened.
“But I’m not surprised,” Biden said.
“There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Prigozhin, 62, led a mutiny against Russia’s top army brass on June 23-24, which Putin said could have tipped Russia into civil war.
Biden and CIA Director Williams Burns spoke separately last month of the potential danger to Prigozhin after his actions, although somewhat in jest.
“If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d be keeping my eye on my menu,” Biden said during a news conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in July.
“But all kidding aside…I don’t think any of us know for sure what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”
Speaking a week later, CIA Director William Burns said: “I think Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold … If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster.”
Prigozhin’s June mutiny was ended by negotiations and an apparent Kremlin deal that saw him agree to relocate to neighboring Belarus. But he appeared to move freely inside Russia after the deal nonetheless.
Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA operations officer who served as the agency’s Moscow station chief, told Reuters he was sure Wednesday’s incident occurred on Putin’s orders.
“You want your own guys to know that you’re brutal and ruthless and anyone who betrays Putin is going to pay the ultimate price,” he said.
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