Russian investigators say they are currently conducting DNA testing on the recovered bodies from the Wednesday plane crash northwest of Moscow believed to have killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his top commanders.
In yesterday's condolence speech, President Putin referred to the Wagner chief in the past tense, remembering him as a "talented" businessman who made "mistakes"—which was widely seen as high level confirmation he went down in the plane.
State media sources have revealed new details of the status of the investigation at the crash site, with RT underscoring that DNA tests will take time, and that "the probe was entrusted to Ivan Sibula, a senior investigator who previously led inquiries into high-profile air incidents in Russia."
As for the US reaction, President Joe Biden had been quick to point the finger directly at Putin, saying while on vacation Wednesday he was "not surprised" as "There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind." Biden had been briefed soon after reports of the crash emerged, but said, "I don’t know enough to know the answer. I’ve been working out for the last hour and a half."
A Thursday Pentagon briefing gave an official US assessment, with Pentagon spokesman Gen. Pat Ryder saying an intentional explosion brought down Prigozhin's plane. Ryder called initial US reports of a surface-to-air missile "inaccurate" amid other reports saying it was a bomb detonated midair. The Pentagon assessed that Prigozhin was likely on board and was killed in the crash, but didn't attempt to posit a precise cause.
Interestingly, Ryder also strongly suggested that Wagner mercenaries are no longer active in a significant way on the Ukraine battlefield:
Ryder recalled that after the rebellion of the Wagner Group two months ago in Russia, these forces were actually withdrawn from near Bakhmut and the battlefield in general.
"But for all intents and purposes their combat effectiveness has been diminished. And they are no longer a significant factor when it comes to the conflict inside Ukraine."
Importantly, the Kremlin has on Friday rejected Biden's allegation that Putin was behind it, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling attempts to incriminate Russian government leaders absolute lies.
"There is a lot of speculation around the plane crash and the tragic death of the passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin," Peskov told reporters during a briefing. "Of course, in the West, this speculation is being presented from a certain angle. All of this is an absolute lie," he added.
Last June, CIA director David Petraeus conjured visions of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s assassination: “he should be very careful around open windows in his new surroundings”— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) August 23, 2023
Prigozhin was reportedly killed in a plane explosion/crash today pic.twitter.com/PW0m35oDrx
Meanwhile, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has said those Wagner fighters currently in Belarus can stay there, according to state-run BelTA, at a moment the fate of the organization is uncertain. Makeshift memorials have been seen at Wagner offices in Russian cities, including in St. Petersburg where the group's large HQ building is located.