In a recent statement, U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday responded to reports of the death of Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash, expressing a sentiment that echoed his previous stance on Russian politics.
He remarked, that there is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind.
This incident has prompted analysts who spoke with Reuters to speculate about its potential implications.
Some suggest that it might serve as a warning from Putin to those who might be thinking of betraying him or as a demonstration of his support for the Russian military, which Prigozhin had previously undermined through an unsuccessful armed mutiny in June.
According to Russian authorities, Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday evening, resulting in no survivors.
However, Reuters has been unable to independently confirm his presence on the aircraft. Nevertheless, a Telegram channel linked to the Wagner Group announced his demise, Reuters reported.
The White House confirmed that President Biden had been briefed on the crash but noted that he lacked definitive information about the incident.
Biden stated, “I’m not surprised. There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, aged 62, gained notoriety for his role in a mutiny against Russia’s top military officials on June 23-24. This mutiny raised concerns that it could have plunged Russia into civil war, a matter acknowledged by Putin himself.
In the weeks leading up to Prigozhin’s tragic end, both President Biden and CIA Director William Burns had mentioned the potential dangers he faced as a result of his actions.
Biden had quipped, “If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d be keeping my eye on my menu,” during a news conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in July.
However, he had also added a more serious note, saying, “But all kidding aside…I don’t think any of us know for sure what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”
CIA Director William Burns had also remarked, “I think Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold … If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster.”
The June mutiny led by Prigozhin was eventually resolved through negotiations and a purported Kremlin agreement that saw him relocate to neighbouring Belarus. However, he seemed to move about freely within Russia following this agreement.
Commenting on Wednesday’s incident, Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA operations officer told Reuters that he believes that it occurred at Putin’s behest.
He said that, “You want your own guys to know that you’re brutal and ruthless and anyone who betrays Putin is going to pay the ultimate price. Putin is cauterizing his wounds.”