Putin gave Wagner Group’s Prigozhin a ‘false sense of security’: Dan Hoffman
Former CIA station chief Dan Hoffman reacts to reports that the Wagner Group leader died in a plane crash and discusses the impact it could have on the war in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time regarding the reported death of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, expressing condolences.
Putin made the remarks during a Thursday meeting with Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-aligned Ukrainian separatist state.
“As for the aviation tragedy, first of all, I want to express my sincerest condolences to the families of all the victims. It is always a tragedy,” Putin said. “Indeed, if there were — and the primary data indicate that there were employees of the Wagner PMC — I would want to note that these people made a significant contribution to our common cause of fighting the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine. We remember this, we know it, and we will not forget it.”
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“I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 1990s. He was a man with a complex destiny, and he made serious mistakes in life,” the Russian president continued. “He achieved the results he needed both for himself and, when I asked him, for the common cause, as in these last months. He was a talented person, a talented businessman. He worked not only in our country and worked with results, but also abroad in Africa, in particular. He was involved in oil, gas, precious metals and stones there.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via a video conference at the Kremlin in Moscow. (ALEXANDER KAZAKOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Without acknowledging international speculation that the Russian government was involved in the mercenary leader’s death, Putin gave assurance an investigation was underway.
“As far as I know, it was only yesterday that he got back from Africa. He met some officials here. But what is absolutely clear — the head of the Investigative Committee reported to me this morning, they have already launched a preliminary investigation into this incident. And it will be carried out in full and to the end,” Putin said. “There is no doubt about that here. Let’s see what the investigators say in the near future. Tests — technical and genetic tests — are being carried out now. This takes some time.”
Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner Group who challenged the rule of Vladimir Putin just months ago, was killed Wednesday in a plane crash that has left 10 people dead outside of Moscow, state media is reporting.
The business jet was traveling from the Russian capital to St. Petersburg when it went down in the Tver region, according to the TASS news agency.
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“Prigozhin was listed among the passengers, according to the Federal Air Transport Agency,” read a post by TASS on Telegram. “An investigation into the crash of the Embraer aircraft has been launched, the department noted.”
In this image taken from video released by Razgruzka_Vagnera telegram channel, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, speaks to a camera at an unknown location. (Razgruzka_Vagnera telegram channel via AP)
Little concrete information has been produced regarding the disaster, and bodily evidence has yet to be produced.
Media figures and government officials have speculated that Putin was behind the explosion that allegedly took the mercenary warlord’s life — but news outlets have published reports with conflicting information from the U.S. federal government.
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Immediately following the incident, President Biden was asked about reports that Prigozhin was possibly on the doomed aircraft.
Portraits of Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, and Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who managed Wagner’s operations and allegedly served in Russian military intelligence, are seen at the makeshift memorial in front of the PMC Wagner office in Novosibirsk, Russia, on Thursday. (VLADIMIR NIKOLAYEV/AFP via Getty Images)
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I am not surprised… Not much happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind. I don’t know enough to know the answer,” he said.
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Rebekah Koffler, a strategic military intelligence analyst and former senior official at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), told Fox News Digital that reports by Russian state media should be looked at with skepticism, given Moscow’s agenda.
“At this time, we lack independent confirmation whether the Russian media or the Federal Air Transport Agency reporting about Prigozhin’s death is credible,” she said. “There could be many reasons why Moscow wants us to believe that Prigozhin is dead. If he indeed died in the plane crash, it’s probably a result of the assassination operation, ‘wet deeds’ in Russian tradecraft, conducted on Putin’s orders.”
“If Prigozhin is alive, the story could be a disinformation operation, intended to get Prigozhin back under cover to run clandestine operations in Africa and other places vital for Putin,” Koffler added.
A Russian serviceman inspects a part of a crashed private jet near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia, on Thursday.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied any involvement in the alleged death of Prigozhin.
“We are not involved in this situation, that’s for sure,” the president said Thursday. “I think everyone is aware of who is involved.”
Timothy Nerozzi is a writer for Fox News Digital. You can follow him on Twitter @timothynerozzi and can email him at [email protected]