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Ukraine live briefing: Putin seems to eulogize Prigozhin; Pentagon says Wagner chief’s death ‘likely’


A photo of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, is seen at an informal memorial in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Thursday. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to eulogize Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, in his first remarks since the crash of a plane whose passenger list included Prigozhin’s name. Putin said in televised remarks that he had known Prigozhin since the 1990s, calling him a “talented person” who “made serious mistakes.”

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said Prigozhin was “likely” killed in the plane crash, according to an initial U.S. assessment.

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

There is no indication so far that the plane was downed by a missile, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a preliminary assessment. An explosion was detected along the path of the plane, but there are no signs of a missile launch, they said. The early uncertainty leaves open the possibility that the plane was sabotaged somehow, but precisely what happened remains unclear, The Washington Post reported.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called the crash “a terrorist attack.” Navalny said Putin had “arranged to kill his soldier Prigozhin.” Navalny’s statement follows widespread speculation that the Wagner boss’s presumed death was a revenge killing ordered by the Kremlin in response to Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny two months ago, the most serious challenge to Putin’s rule in decades.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied Ukraine’s involvement in the crash. “You know when Ukraine was speaking and reaching out to the countries of the world regarding the planes, that’s not what we had in mind,” Zelensky said jokingly in a video, referring to Ukraine’s requests for aerial support such as the F-16 fighters Kyiv has been repeatedly asking the West to provide. “We wanted support, although perhaps [the plane incident] will also help in some sense of the word,” he added.

The United States will begin instructing Ukrainian pilots in flying F-16 aircraft in Arizona in October, the Pentagon said. In a phone call with Zelensky, President Biden also pledged to expedite U.S. approvals for other nations seeking to transfer their F-16s to Ukraine, “upon completion of training” of Ukrainian pilots.

Zelensky expressed thanks to the United States during Thursday’s call, which occurred on Ukraine’s Independence Day. The United States “took the lead in rallying global support for Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “This crucial leadership enabled our struggle and bent the arc of history toward good. Together, we prove that freedom and independence are worth fighting for.”

Ukraine is seeking armored medical evacuation vehicles from its supporters, Zelensky said according to his office late Thursday. The remarks come as Ukraine’s medical professionals are struggling to keep up with an increase in mine injuries since the start of the counteroffensive in June.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops had thwarted more than three dozen Ukrainian drones over Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed illegally in 2014. Of the 42 drones Russian air defense systems detected, nine were destroyed while 33 “were suppressed by electronic warfare” and crashed without reaching their targets, the ministry said.

Norway will give a number of F-16 fighters to Ukraine, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said, without specifying how many. “We have already decided to train Ukrainian fighter jet pilots and announced in the summer that we would provide two Norwegian F-16 jets for training purposes,” he said. Norway will disclose further details about additional F-16 donations to Ukraine on a later date, he added.

The United States levied sanctions against Russians linked to the forcible deportation of Ukraine’s children. “Children are the most innocent victims of war: we have not forgotten Ukraine’s children,” the State Department said in a statement announcing the new penalties against more than a dozen individuals and entities.

Prigozhin’s presumed death casts fate of Wagner’s operations in doubt: The apparent deaths of Prigozhin and his top lieutenants has brought the Wagner mercenary group to an end, Mary Ilyushina and Francesca Ebel report. But the question remains: Which remnants of Wagner’s once-sprawling empire will Putin take over?

As an organization, Wagner is “really finished,” said David Lewis, a professor of global politics at Britain’s University of Exeter who has researched the group’s illicit business networks in Africa. Prigozhin would be “impossible to replace,” he said. But the Kremlin will seek to replicate Wagner’s blend of mercenaries, profitable business, smuggling and disinformation campaigns, he added.

POST AUTHOR: Andrew Jeong

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