Fragments of hand grenades found in bodies of victims of Prigozhin plane crash, says Putin | spcilvly

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of people who died in the Aug. 23 crash of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane.

Experts who investigated the crash found no indication that the private plane had suffered an “external impact,” he said. Prigozhin and two of his top lieutenants at private military contractor Wagner were among the 10 people who died when the plane crashed while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

There was no way to independently verify Putin’s statement.

A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded that an intentional explosion caused the crash, and Western officials have pointed to a long list of Putin’s enemies who have been killed. The Kremlin called accusations that it was behind the crash an “absolute lie.”

A Russian investigation was launched but no results have been published. Moscow rejected an offer from Brazil, where the Embraer business jet was built, to join the investigation.

While Putin noted that the investigation was still ongoing and did not say what caused the crash, his statement appeared to imply that the plane was brought down by a grenade explosion.

Prigozhin’s aborted rebellion in June marked the most serious challenge to Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades. The collapse occurred two months after the start of the rebellion.

Putin also noted that while investigators have not tested the remains for alcohol and drugs, 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine were found during searches at Prigozhin’s office in St. Petersburg after the riot, an apparent attempt to denigrate to the mercenary leader.

After his death, Putin described Prigozhin, 62, as “a man of difficult destiny” who had “made serious mistakes in life.”

Prigozhin owed his fortune to his ties to the Russian leader dating back to the early 1990s and was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for lucrative Kremlin catering contracts.

The Wagner Group military contractor he created has been active in Ukraine, Syria and several African countries and had tens of thousands of troops at its peak. He played a key role in the fighting in Ukraine, where he led the capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in May after months of bloody fighting.

In the June 23-24 rebellion, Prigozhin said he aimed to overthrow the leadership of the Defense Ministry, which he blamed for mistakes in intensifying fighting in Ukraine. His mercenaries took control of Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then advanced toward Moscow before abruptly stopping the mutiny under an agreement that offered them amnesty from prosecution. The mercenaries were given the option to withdraw from service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Ministry of Defense.

Last week, Putin met with one of Wagner’s top commanders to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine, in a sign that the Kremlin intends to continue using mercenaries after the death of Prigozhin.

Putin said Thursday that several thousand Wagner soldiers have signed contracts with the Defense Ministry.

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