Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that the detonation of hand grenades inside the aircraft, not a missile attack, caused the August plane crash that killed Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“Fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those killed in the crash,” Putin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The Russian leader said the head of Russia’s crash investigative committee reported to him a few days ago on its findings.
“There was no external impact on the plane — this is already an established fact,” Putin said, seemingly rejecting assertions by unidentified U.S. officials who said shortly after the crash that they believed it had been shot down.
Some Western officials have suggested that Putin ordered the killing of Prigozhin, whose mercenaries fought alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, after the Wagner Group leader led a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin in late June.
Thousands of Prigozhin’s troops subsequently settled in Belarus, although more recently several hundred have returned to the front lines in Ukraine to resume fighting for Russia.
Prigozhin traveled freely in Russia before the August 23 crash that killed him, two other top Wagner figures, four bodyguards and a crew of three.
Putin gave no details on how a grenade or grenades could have been detonated on the plane. He faulted investigators for not having carried out alcohol and drug tests on the crash victims given that quantities of cocaine had been found in the past in Wagner’s office in St. Petersburg.
Some material in this report came from Reuters.