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Ukraine live briefing: U.S. ‘trying to nail down’ plane crash cause; Russia recovers black box


Part of a private jet that crashed in Russia’s Tver region was taken away on Friday. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

President Biden said the United States was trying to determine the cause of the plane crash in Russia which is thought to have killed Wagner Group chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The Embraer jet that crashed this week, killing all those on board, had Prigozhin on its passenger list, according to Russian aviation officials. “We’re trying to nail down precisely,” Biden told reporters on Friday, adding that he was “not at liberty to speak to that” but was not surprised by reports Prigozhin had died.

Russia’s Investigative Committee meanwhile said it had recovered the plane’s black box, and that forensic tests were being conducted to confirm the identities of all 10 crash victims.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe:

Aviation experts said the plane crash points away from a mechanical problem or human error, but they cautioned in interviews with The Washington Post that there was not enough evidence available to make a definitive conclusion. Early assessments by U.S. officials suggest the possibility of an onboard explosion, The Post reported.

The Kremlin dismissed speculation that Prigozhin was likely assassinated on the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, without confirming the Wagner leader’s death. “It’s all lies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, adding that all the speculation in the West is “from a certain angle.” However, many among Russia’s elite also believe the crash was instigated by the Kremlin, The Post has reported.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich has appealed a Moscow court’s decision to extend his detention through November, according to Russian state news site Tass. He is being held before trial on espionage charges that the United States and Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, have called baseless. The Journal said this week that it was “deeply disappointed he continues to be arbitrarily and wrongfully detained for doing his job as a journalist.”

Putin signed a decree ordering paramilitary fighters to swear an oath to the nation, according to Russian news agencies. The decree, signed Friday, comes into effect immediately and applies to fighters from the Wagner mercenary group, adding that the formal oath of allegiance includes pledging to follow the orders of commanders and senior leaders.

Three Ukrainian pilots were killed after a midair collision during a combat mission on Friday, government authorities said. The two L-39 combat training aircraft collided near Zhytomyr, according to the Ukrainian air force, and the State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether their flights violated any laws. One of the pilots killed, who had the call sign “Juice,” described to The Post in April 2022 how Ukrainian fliers were fending off Russian invaders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lauded the pilot “Juice,” whom he identified as Andrii Pilshchikov, for his help in defending against the Russian invasion. “He was a Ukrainian officer, one of those who helped our country a lot,” Zelensky said in a Telegram video offering his condolences to the killed pilots’ friends and family.

Moscow’s mayor said air defenses destroyed a new drone approaching the capital Saturday, the latest in a spate of attempted drone attacks, which the Kremlin has blamed on Kyiv. Russia’s Defense Ministry said a second drone was intercepted in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine.

It could take six to eight months for F-16 fighter jets to be delivered to Ukraine, Netherlands Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in an interview with European Pravda. Several conditions have to be met, including pilot training and spare part supplies before the transfer can take place, she said.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed he had warned Prigozhin about a threat to his life if the Wagner boss continued his march to Moscow during a short-lived mutiny in June, according to Belarusian state news agency BelTA. Lukashenko had claimed credit for brokering a truce that allowed Wagner personnel to move to Belarus.

Turkey sees no alternative to the Black Sea Grain initiative, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said at a news conference during a visit to Kyiv on Friday, Turkey’s TRT World reported. He said alternative ways are being sought, but they contain risks and cannot replace the original agreement, which was brokered by Ankara and the United Nations to allow the flow of Ukrainian grain exports to the world.

The Foreign Ministry in Kyiv criticized a proposed moratorium on importing Ukrainian grain to some European Union nations. Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have said an E.U.-approved ban on Ukrainian grain should be extended beyond the Sept. 15 deadline because those nations want a favorable market for their agricultural products.

Russia warned Moldova against deepening its support to Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Friday. Maria Zakhrova warned Ukraine’s neighbor “against getting too involved in the process of supporting Ukraine,” according to Russian news agency Tass, adding that this would “jeopardize stability and security in the region.” Russia’s war in Ukraine raised fears of a spillover into Moldova, a post-Soviet nation with a pro-West government. Moscow has long supported — and has troops stationed in — Moldova’s breakaway enclave of Transnistria.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Russian mercenary leader who became Putin foe, is believed to have died: Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a onetime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who amassed oligarchic wealth by building a mercenary army that served the Russian state, only to gamble it all with a stunning but failed mutiny in June amid the war in Ukraine, is presumed to have died Wednesday in a plane crash northwest of Moscow. He was 62.

The U.S. intelligence community believes Mr. Prigozhin “likely” died in the crash and is exploring the possibility an explosion brought down his plane.

In an ascent that he owed almost entirely to the favor of Putin, his longtime patron, Mr. Prigozhin represented an unlikely case study in rebellion. For years, he was denounced by the West as a Kremlin henchman and hailed by Russian state media as a patriot. With his weathered features and bulldog demeanor, he fit well into both narratives.

Natalya Abbakumova contributed to this report.

POST AUTHOR: Niha Masih, Ellen Francis, Nick Parker

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