Vladimir Putin said the head of the investigative committee told him that explosive traces were discovered in the remains of people killed in a plane crash in Russia in August. Wagner mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was among the dead.
The Russian president said that experts investigating the crash in Russia on 23 August found no indication the private jet had experienced an ”external impact” on the plane.
In August, the Kremlin said that ”deliberate wrongdoing” might have caused the plane to crash.
A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded the crash was caused by an intentional explosion, and Western officials have pointed to a list of Putin adversaries who have been assassinated.
The Kremlin described the allegations as an ”absolute lie”.
Prigozhin and two top Russian-based Wagner Group lieutenants were among the 10 people killed in the crash on a flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
It happened two months after Prigozhin led an attempted coup in Russia.
A Russian investigation was launched but no findings have been released.
Moscow rejected an offer from Brazil, where the Embraer business jet was built, to join the inquiry.
Putin also noted that while investigators haven’t tested the remains for alcohol and drugs, 5 kilograms of cocaine was found during searches at Prigozhin’s office in St. Petersburg following the mutiny — an apparent attempt to denigrate the mercenary chief.
After his death, Putin described Prigozhin, 62, as “a man of difficult fate” who had “made serious mistakes in life.”
Prigozhin owed his fortune to his ties with the Russian leader dating to the early 1990s and was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for the lucrative Kremlin catering contracts.
The Wagner Group military contractor that he created has been active in Ukraine, Syria and several African countries and counted tens of thousands of troops at its peak. It played a key role in the fighting in Ukraine, where it spearheaded the capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in May after months of bloody combat.
In the June 23-24 rebellion, Prigozhin said it was intended to oust the Defence Ministry’s leadership that he blamed for mistakes in pressing the fighting in Ukraine. His mercenaries took over Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then rolled toward Moscow before abruptly halting the mutiny under a deal that offered them amnesty from prosecution. The mercenaries were given a choice to retire from the service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Defense Ministry.
Last week, Putin met with one of Wagner’s top commanders to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine in a sign that the Kremlin intends to keep using the mercenaries after Prigozhin’s death.
Putin said Thursday that several thousand Wagner troops have signed contracts with the Defence Ministry.