Western governments have reacted to the mysterious death on August 23 of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s infamous Wagner Group mercenaries.
Prigozhin is reported to have been killed in a plane crash just weeks after having organised a military revolt against the Russian Government.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have drawn the attention of Western officials, with the main spokesman for the French Government Olivier Véran describing Prigozhin’s death as suspicious.
“We do not yet know the conditions under which this crash took place,” he said, adding it made sense to “have reasonable doubts” that it may have not been entirely accidental.
Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister, was more forthright. “We would have great trouble naming anyone who would intuitively think this was a coincidence,” he said.
“It so happens that political opponents whom [Russian President] Vladimir Putin considers a threat to his power do not die naturally.”
Ukrainian officials have perhaps been the most keen to link the warlord’s death to Putin, with one of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s senior advisors Mykhailo Podolyak writing online that Prigozhin had “signed his own death warrant” with his failed coup.
“It is obvious that Putin does not forgive anyone,” he wrote, arguing that the Russian President was simply “waiting for the moment” to kill him.
“The demonstrative elimination of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections,” he added.
Vladimir Putin has now strengthened his position as the perceived guarantor of Russia’s internal stability, and has neutralised the loose cannon that was Wagner under Prigozhin, writes @GElefteriu. https://t.co/n2ylTG3XuH
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) June 28, 2023
By contrast, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock warned against hastily drawing conclusions regarding the mercenary leader’s death.
“No quick conclusions can be drawn,” she warned local media on August 24, although she did cryptically add that “a dictatorship that is built on violence … only knows violence internally”.
US President Joe Biden appeared to be more apathetic about the incident, saying that while he was not sure what exactly led to Prigozhin’s plane crashing, he would not be surprised if the Russian Government was behind it.
“There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer,” he said.
Officially, the British Government has also refused to provide much comment in relation to the high-profile death, with a spokesperson merely saying that Whitehall is “monitoring the situation closely”.
Unofficially, however, officials appear keen to link the plane crash to Putin, with Alicia Kearns, the head of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, lending credence to reports that the Russian Government shot down Prigozhin’s plane.
“The speed at which the Russian Government has confirmed Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed on a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg should tell us everything we need to know,” Conservative Party MP Kearns wrote online.
“Reports that Russian air defence shot down the plane suggests Putin is sending a very loud message,” she added.
“For Putin there is one unforgivable sin: the betrayal of Putin and Russia.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says the Russia-backed Wagner Group of mercenaries has been pushing him to let them pay an “uninvited visit” to Poland. https://t.co/TCG0j2t59A
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) July 24, 2023