President Vladimir Putin just floated the most interesting – and let’s say, colorful – theory to date on why Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane went down outside Moscow on August 23. While much of Western reporting and even Russian media itself have described the Wagner chief’s death as due to either an anti-air missile or a planted bomb being detonated, Putin told an annual meeting of the Valdai Club in Sochi on Thursday that Prigozhin and his men likely got drunk or possibly high, and were playing with grenades.
Bloomberg, which picked up on the unexpected public comments, wrote: “Russian President Vladimir Putin said pieces of grenade were found in the bodies of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and other mercenary leaders who died in a plane crash, as he hinted that the man who led an armed revolt against the Kremlin’s military leadership had been a drug user.”
Putin claims Prigozhin’s plane crashed because the Wagner leadership got drunk and/or high, then set off hand grenades during the flight.— max seddon (@maxseddon) October 5, 2023
Seems legit, definitely no further questions about that incident, we can all move on pic.twitter.com/JeM8ljlibi
Putin said, “In the bodies of those who died in the air crash fragments of hand grenades were found.”
The Russian leader expressed regret that toxicology tests weren’t conducted on the recovered bodies at the crash site, as they “found not only $10 million in cash, but 5 kilograms of cocaine” in a subsequent raid on Wagner PMC’s main offices in St. Petersburg.
In total 10 passengers as well as crew were killed aboard the Embraer SA Legacy 600 private jet. US sources have speculated it was likely a bomb that was placed on the plane, and detonated midair. There’s also the Russian shootdown theory, ordered by either Putin or the military as ‘revenge’ for the June Wagner mutiny.
Broadly, Western sources have viewed the whole killing as an assassination ordered by Putin himself, but which the Kremlin has denied as an “absolute lie”.
But given the nonchalant and casual way Putin just told an audience of top Russian officials that it boils down to irresponsible mercenaries getting drunk and high and deciding to play games with hand grenades, it seems Putin could simply be openly taunting his enemies here.
The Thursday comments on Prigozhin’s death were widely reported in international headlines soon after Putin saying them. It came during a lengthy Q&A session with the Russian leader, as is typical of the Valdai format. Putin certainly knows US and European press and officials closely watch and monitor his words at these events.